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How and Why to Research Your Model

Research Books 1 There are literally hundreds of books widely available that are intended for historians and military enthusiasts but are also very useful to the scale modeller

This article explains the benefits of doing research to support scale modelling subjects and provides advice about where to find research material.

Why Do Research?

Research could be considered as an optional extra to scale modelling.  It is certainly true that it is possible to build up a good collection of models without ever doing a second of research.  Yet most modellers will at some point want to explore the background and history of the subjects they are modelling and for many modellers, this becomes an integral and very enjoyable aspect of the hobby.

Evidence of this can be seen at any model show where there will be crowds gathered around book stalls selling factual books about the subjects which are on sale nearby as scale models.  There are several main reasons why modellers are so interested in research and here are the main ones:

M113 Baghdad These M113s in Iraq have their bodies painted sand but the turrets remain green.  Are the turrets a recent addition?  Whatever the reason, this paint scheme is unlikely to be on any model kit instruction sheet and so would make for an interesting model.  Note also how an M16 assault rifle hangs casually from the turret of the right hand vehicle – another detail that could only be found from research.

F14 Cockpit Getting the interiors of models accurate is difficult without reference to actual photographs.

1. The Pursuit Of Accuracy

For some modellers, the pursuit of accuracy becomes almost an obsession. They are not happy unless their model is 100% accurate down to the last bolt. Manufacturers today tend to do their homework well and normally models will be accurate. However, it is not unknown for manufacturers to make mistakes, even if these tend to be minor such as depicting a model with hexagonal bolts instead of domed bolts.

There is also a possibility that a manufacturer may ‘generalise’ when creating a model.  Creating the molds for injection scale models is very expensive and manufacterers need to produce a great number of kits to make each mold commercially viable.  Therefore, rather than make several molds to cover every version of a particular vehicle, they may make a single mold to cover several versions.  The difference between the versions may be minor, but for the dedicated ‘bolt counter’ this will not be good enough and they will want their model to be exactly right, so will do research to satisfy themselves of the accuracy of their particular subject.

2. The Pursuit Of Realism

M113 Damage in Vietnam Photos of battle damage such as this are essential if the modeller wishes to recreate realism.

Realism and accuracy are not always the same thing, in fact, sometimes there can be conflict between the two.  For example, a modeller whose main concern is accuracy may leave off bolts on the tail of a small scale aircraft because they would be too small to see at that scale, whereas a modeller interested primarily in realism, would include the bold detail because it makes the tail look right.

The only way to get a model to ‘look right’ is to study photographs and videos of real vehicles to see how they actually operated and looked in the field.  For aircraft, this means looking at how paint is discoloured by engine exhaust, or how paint is worn on a wing by repeated footsteps.  For an armoured vehicle, realism means studying how dust and mud accumulates on tracks and how rust streaks form when paint is scratched.

Perhaps, the ultimate expression of this is the diorama – putting one or models in a realistic scene with figures that together tell a story.  To make these scenes look realistic, the modeller needs to create an appropriate landscape with vegetation.  The modeller will have to find out how uniforms were actually worn in the field rather than how they appeared on the parade ground.  Finding all this information requires a good deal of studying.

3. The Pursuit of Originality

Colorful Hunter Reproducing an unusual colour scheme like the one above would be difficult but would result in a model that is probably unique.  It is research that provides the information to build such models.

If a model is to be built ‘out of the box’ as per the manufacturer’s instructions then there is limited need for research.  However, most modellers, sooner or later, feel the need to start making models that have some originality and differ from what the manufacturer intended.  This may mean a different paint scheme, or more drastically creating a different version to that supplied in the model kit.  This not only gives the finished model a certain uniqueness, but also provides additional challenge to the modeller.

Of course, as soon as the modeller deviates from the manufacturers instructions, some research is necessary to find details of the revised subject that is to be built.  Some modellers like to build models of a very specific vehicle and thus will need to find photographs and information about that particular vehicle.

Another variation of this is the urge to ‘super-detail’ a model i.e. add extra detail not provided with the model kit, or even building an interior to a vehicle.  This will require highly detailed reference sources – there is no point super-detailing a model if the detail is wrong!

4. Getting Under the Skin Of The Subject

This leads back to why a modeller chooses a particular subject in the first place.  Why do some modellers stick to aircraft and others to ships?  Why are some modellers drawn to Japaneese armoured vehicles of WWII and others to aircraft of the Korean War?  Most modellers stick to a particular genre which could be fairly wide, or sometimes very narrow.

There are many reasons for choosing to build a particular subject and the quality of the model itself is a factor.  Nevertheless, modellers are often drawn to certain subjects and have a great interest in them.  Making a model for these people is not just a chance to assemble a few parts and make a good looking model, it is a chance to ‘get to know’ the subject.  This is why modellers will sometimes make the interior of a vehicle that may be almost invisible when the model is completed.  To these modellers, researching their subject, finding out about the history and development, the different versions etc. is as much a pleasure as modelling itself.

Modellers who build armoured vehicles will generally be interested in armoured vehicles and will enjoy visiting military museums, reading books and watching documentaries about the subject.  The same applies to other genres.  The research almost becomes a hobby in itself with the modelling and researching supporting each other in a symbiotic relationship.

Sources Of Research

1. Library

Before spending out a lot of money on speciallist books, a visit to the local library may prove fruitful.  They are unlikely to have books about a specific tank or aircraft, but may have books about campaigns and wars that contain many useful photographs.  It is possible that the local library can borrow books from other libraries and may have an extensive catalogue that you can choose from.

2. Books and Magazines

Research Books 02 There is a vast array of books about specific vehicles and some of them are aimed at the modeller.  The above books are all available from Osprey who offer hundreds of titles for the military enthusiast and modeller.

There are an amazing number of books available covering just about every military vehicle, aircraft and ship.  There is also an increasing number of books being produced specifically for the scale modeller.  At the end of this article Table 1 lists some of the major book suppliers of interest to the modeller, but you will also find that some of the suppliers of modelling kits may also sell accompanying books, so also try the table in the article ‘Where To Buy’ .

Some of the larger online booksellers such as Amazon may supply some of the less specialist books of interest to the modeller.  If you plan to buy factual books regularly, perhaps consider joining a book club that supports your area of interest.

Research Magazine

A modelling magazine that provides a detailed build of a model kit followed by reference photos is perfect,  In one place it gives the modeller everthing needed to produce a great model.  These pages come from AFV Modeller magazine.

Browsing the shelves of a newsagent will reveal that there are many magazines the cater for enthusiasts of all types such as car racing, aircraft, boats and the military.  These will often have articles about specific vehicles that may make a good modelling subject.  Sometimes modelling magazines will provide reference photographs of a model kit that has just been released and this can be ideal.

3. Internet Modelling Forums and Support Groups

A number of internet support sites exist for scale modellers and these can help in a number of ways.  Firstly, these sites often have links to other sites that can be useful.  Secondly, some of these sites have galleries of reference photographs which may be just what a modeller is looking for.  Thirdly, some of these sites have forums where questions can be asked of the modelling community.  Modellers often become experts about the types of subject that they like to model and many are very happy to pass on this information.

If you have a specific question about a particular subject that you wish to model then putting it on to one of these sites may get the answer you need.  Of course, you will have to decide how much reliance you can put on any replies that you get.  A selection of these sites is given in Table 2 at the end of this article.

4. Television and DVDs

There are so many television channels available today that some have become devoted to documentaries of military history, or other special interest groups.  These are useful for more than just getting a background of a particular vehicle.  By recording the show to a DVD and then pausing it at the appropriate spot it is possible to get good pictures of modelling subjects in action.

There are also a good range of specialist documentary DVD’s available that can be used for the same purpose.

5. Local Model Clubs

Joining a local modelling club has many benefits, not the least of which is access to many knowledgeable folk, many of whom will have their own mini-reference libraries that they are likely to be only to happy to share.

6. Museums And Exhibitions

There is no better reference than being able to visit a real-life example of a subject that you wish to model.  Visiting an aircraft, armour or car museum or display, with your camera can provide you with hundreds of reference photographs to keep you modelling for a long time.

A Caution About Reference Material

“There are a hundred billion facts on the Internet and all of them are wrong.”

That quote is a humorous exaggeration, but the thought behind it is something that should be considered with any research material.  A photograph of a tank advancing on the enemy may be stirring stuff, but as reference material it is of little use unless it identifies the make of tank, the date the photograph was taken and the unit the tank belonged to.

Similarly, if a vehicle in a museum has been heavily restored then it is in effect a copy and may differ from the original.  Unless you can access true original material you should always be wary of mistakes or omissions in the reference material.  Ask whether a book is based on original research or did the author take the facts from previous books?  There is no need to become too skeptical because most authors of reference books will do meticulous research and take great pride in the accuracy of their work.  Nevertheless, if at all possible, check all the facts by consulting at least two independent sources.

Table 1: Reference Book Suppliers

Company Comments
Aviation Book Centre UK based military book specialist, despite the name they cover military and naval books
Historex Agents Offer several ranges of books from different publishers
Midland Counties Publishing Wide range of books and DVDs about military and railway history, some aimed at modellers
Osprey Publishing Huge range of books about military history and equipment including many specifically for the modeller
SAM Publications Publish a range of modelling magazines and books aimed at aircraft modellers
Squadron Offer several ranges of books from different publishers
Squadron Signal Publications Numerous books about military history and equipment
Wings & Wheels Publications Books for modellers and plane and vehicle enthusiasts

Note that a couple of the suppliers listed above are general hobby/model supply companies and have been included because they also offer a large selection of books.

Table 2: Internet Support Groups and Clubs

Name Comments
Armorama Military Vehicles
Hyperscale Aircraft and military vehicles
Missing Lynx Military Vehicles
Modeling Madness Thousands of reviews of model kits plus user forums
Prime Portal The military enthusiasts and modellers reference website.  Loads of useful photos and vehicle walk-arounds
ScaleModelIndex.com This is an index of thousands of lilnks to modelling and reference sites on the internet
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