Gunpla is Funpla

As part of my recent efforts to branch out in my hobby time and cleanse my palate a little from masses and masses of Warmchine models, I’ve been trying a few different things lately. As part of this, I picked up a Gundam model a little while ago and visited the local Gunpla club for a meeting or two. As they had a contest coming up, I figured I would put it together and see what I can do as someone who is completely new to the world of Gunpla and doesn’t know an RX-78-2 Gundam from an RB-79 Ball.

But first, a little primer on some terminology, because I had no idea what these Gumdan things were either when I picked up my kit.


I believe the technical term is “robit”

Gundam is a media franchise that started with a TV show called Mobile Suit Gundam in Japan in 1979, and since then has spawned countless spinoffs, not just on TV but also movies, comics and video games. In the Gundam universe, wars are fought with Mobile Suits, which are sixty foot tall mechanical combat vehicles that resemble giant robots. These mobile suits are piloted, can fight on land or in space, and often have both melee and ranged weapons. The protagonists refer to their mobile suits as Gundams, while the antagonists call their mobile suits something different, just like how all Panzers are tanks but not all tanks are Panzers.

Gunpla is short for Gundam plastic modelling, which is the hobby of making models of things from the Gundam universe. This isn’t just limited to gundams, but can include other mobile suits and vehicles such as tanks and spaceships.

These model kits are also categorized in a system of scales and grades. High Grade is the most common and is your basic 1/144 scale model. Master Grade comes in 1/100 scale, and has more details and points of articulation than the High Grade. Additionally, the Master Grade models typically come with an internal frame construction that the panels are laid over, allowing for better posability. Real Grade kits are in 1/144 scale like the High Grade, but their construction and level of detail more resembles the Master Grade. Perfect Grade is the top of the line, and at 1/60 scale, can be pretty large and come with a commensurately large price tag. Finally, there are also Super Deformed kits that are basically mobile suits in a chibi anime style with stubby limbs and giant heads.

My Zaku


My first gunpla model

So, with that out of the way, lets get down to the not-Gundam Gundam that I built. The kit I got was a High Grade Zaku I MS-05 from Kycilia’s Forces. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know what any of that meant but thanks to a little help from the local Gunpla club, I settled on it for a few reasons. First, I wanted to challenge myself with freehand, so I wanted something with a big shield to give me lots of room for intricate designs. On the shelf at the hobby shop, there were only a couple that really met this category, and I felt that I could do more with the rounded curves of the Zaku rather than the straight lines of the regular Gundams.

There isn’t much to say about the assembly of these particular models, other than that these Gundam kits do have a lot of pieces, but they go together brilliantly. They are made of hard plastic and come on sprues like model airplanes, only they are manufactured to such tolerances that you could probably just cut them off the sprue, sand off the nub from where you cut it, snap them together and be fine in most places. If you do use glue, however, it is probably a good idea to be careful which parts you’re applying it to as these models are engineered with many points of articulation and you don’t want to inadvertently glue a knee or elbow joint into an undesirable pose.

Fortunately, I only did this once, and since my plan was to glue most of these points of articulation into place instead of making it poseable (because I didn’t want to put a bunch of effort into painting cool highlights and glow effects only to repose the model and end up with the shadows on top and the highlights facing the ground), I was able to work around it by selecting a pose where it works. Apart from that, it’s a testament to the good engineering on the kit that assembly was sort of ho-hum, with only a tiny amount of annoying sanding and gap filling to do to get it right.

When it came time to decide what colour to paint it, I took some inspiration from Soviet tanks from WW2. A camo green with some red markings makes for a good theme as it takes advantage of complementary colours to get some nice contrast. I also took a little inspiration from the box art, deciding to break up the green with some black panels as well.

Finally, for the shield, I was initially thinking of carrying the Soviet theme forward and doing a star or some random Cyrillic-looking letters, but then I saw a picture of Kycilia in the instructions and figured why not? It would definitely be a lot more intricate than any freehand I’ve done before, but I knew that would make it a nice challenge, and if I nailed it, it would look amazing.


Primed with black, then shot from above with white to preshade

When was planning this paint job, I also took a lot of inspiration from Angel Giraldez’ book on painting Infinity miniatures and how he gets his extreme highlights. As such, I wanted to really crank up the contrast and the shadows/highlights to emphasize the shape of the model and its interaction with the light, and the many curved surfaces on the Zaku would give me the opportunity to do so. I started with a zenithal prime by disassembling the model, priming all the parts with black Stynylrez, then reassembling it into a pose vaguely similar to what I would be going for. To complete the zenithal effect, I shot it from above and from the direction of the light with white Stynylrez. This does two things. First, just by shooting white from the direction of the light, it gives me a little pre-shading which could be useful later on, particularly if you choose to use a lot of translucent paints. Second, the white will naturally collect in areas that are going to be hit by direct sunlight, so by taking a few pictures of the model primed in this manner, I have a reference that I can use if later on I start having difficulty deciding where to place my shadows and highlights.

With the prime done, I sprayed some red first, let it dry overnight, and then masked off some stripes with Tamiya tape. After that, I disassembled it again and got a nice base coat of P3 Coal Black, which is a dark blue-green. I chose Coal Black as my base colour because not only was it dark, but because the hint of blue makes it a cooler colour, and by using it as my base, I can not only go from dark to light from the shadows in the highlights, but also from cool to warm. This adds a little more contrast, and is one of the reasons why when you’re highlighting green, it’s often a good idea to add a bit of yellow rather than just mixing in straight white.


After applying the green. Note the contrast between light and dark

With a base coat laid down in my shadow colour, it was time to reassemble the model (again) and start highlighting. I used Reaper’s Olive Greens triad, working up through the triad and finally adding a dash of Menoth White Highlight (an off-white colour that has a bit of yellow to it) to the Pale Olive to make the highest highlight. Since we’re working up from our shadow colour to our highlight, I focused my fire with the airbrush on the areas where the white was present in the zenithal priming stage to get those highlights in the right place.

From there, I took out the brush and hand-painted in all the silver mechanical bits and the areas that I wanted to paint black. I suppose I could have used an airbrush for the black, but that was much more masking than I wanted to do, so I just made sure to use thin paints and get a smooth coat, which wasn’t too hard because black naturally has better coverage than, say, yellow or red.


The left leg, before and after applying highlights to the black

With the base coat of black laid in, it was time to break out the airbrush once more and start highlighting the black. This time, I used Blue Liner from Reaper and Gravedigger Denim and Frostbite from P3 for my highlights. Blue Liner is a very dark, almost black colour, while Gravedigger Denim and Frostbite are desaturated blues that I often reach for when I have to highlight black. Again, I would just work up with the airbrush, applying the various blues from dark to light in the areas I want to highlight. Some areas I had to use tape or silly putty to mask off the green, but others I was able to use brush control, disassembling parts, and a business card or piece of paper to protect the already painted green from overspray. I also made sure to keep some of the black on all the pieces so that the finished product will still read as black to the eye in spite of the blue highlights.



Colours used

Next, I did up my freehand drawing of Kycilia on the shield. This was the most ambitious freehand I’ve done, and it was accomplished by starting with basic shapes and adding in detail. Initially, I started by just getting the vague shape of her shoulders and head, and gradually added more detail and more colour until I was working on emulating the fine lines in the art. This is also where thin paints, good brushes and a wet palette come in handy; particularly on the skin, I had to use multiple thin coats to get good coverage as thick paint would have ended up looking patchy and not giving me the brush control I need.


Freehand in progress. Also note the additional highlights on the black between the third and fourth picture


It wasn’t easy to work up the courage to mess up my nice work, but the end result is worth it.

When I was satisfied with her, all that was left was panel lining, edge highlighting, and weathering. Again, use thin paints, dab away the excess, and use a brush with a fine tip when you’re trying to do fine detail work like edge highlighting and panel lines. Also, when it comes to edge highlighting, I like to focus the brightest edge highlights on the upper surfaces of the model because those edges are going to be catching more light and I’m not crazy about the old GW style where they would put extreme highlights on all the edges, including the bottom. For weathering, I used mostly the same techniques that I used on my Grolar of painting on scratches and sponging on some Pig Iron and Umbral Umber, and then following up in some areas with GW Typhus Corrosion to represent grit and grime. I focused a lot of the heavy weathering on the shield because taking hits is kind of what shields are for, but I was careful not to overweather it and ruin all the freehand that I had done. While it takes some courage to apply weathering over freehand painting, doing so really makes it look better and avoids the weird look where you have places that should be weathered absolutely clean because you are too afraid to ruin your nice freehand.


Base detail — before and after applying texture and paint

The base was made out of a chunk of air-drying clay, with some bark chips embedded in it to represent rocks and textured artist medium spread over it to represent dirt. While I mixed some artist acrylic brown into the textured medium to get the base colour, I tried out something a little different in airbrushing a lighter tan colour over some areas of the base facing the light source. This was to highlight and draw the eye to the front of the model, and not have a harsh transition between a model with extreme highlights and a base that looks flat. With the dirt basecoated brown and tan and the rocks basecoated in a dark grey, from there it’s just a matter of washes, dry pigments, and lots and lots of drybrushing to get the highlights and the subtle colour variation on the rocks and dirt.



That’s hot

Finally, the last thing to do was the axe and the glow effects. The blade of the axe was basecoated white with the airbrush, before going at it with reds, oranges, and yellow to get the glow effect. While I masked off a couple areas for part of this project, I wasn’t super worried about overspray because it can be used as part of the object source lighting. While I painted the axe separately, I also sprayed some reds and oranges and yellows on the hand that is holding the axe, the glowing areas of the jetpack about to activate and launch the mech forward for an assault, and the area around the mono-eye to get a nice glow effect. After that, all I had to do was touch up the mono-eye and I was done.


I would say that this Zaku turned out well. The freehand painting was ambitious and isn’t quite perfect, but it represents me pushing myself to do more complex freehand designs than I had ever done before and not totally screwing it up. In that respect, I would say that it is a success nonetheless.

I think my favourite part about Gundam models is that since they are based on a cartoon, you can go a lot of different ways with it on the finish. You can paint them in a very realistic style with plenty of weathering and battle damage, or exaggerate the light and shadow like on a wargaming piece. You can go for a candy coat of the sort you see with automotive scale models, or play around with things like metallic or colour shift paints. Or, since they come on pre-coloured sprues, you could even just sand off the nubs, snap it together, hit it with a panel line marker, and call it a day. All are perfectly legitimate and all are correct, and since it’s based on a cartoon, no one can really tell you that you did it wrong. And as someone who doesn’t want to bother researching the number of rivets on the glacis plate of a late-war model, that’s the kind of modeling I like.


The finished product, and… oh crap, I just noticed the flaw.

Painting my Grolar, Part 2

With the easy part done, it was time to get started on the fun part — getting out the brushes and putting paint on the model.  In part one of this series, I had laid down the base colour scheme in purple and pink, using the airbrush to get some shadows and highlights on the various armour panels that make up this warjack. From there, the next step is to touch up a couple areas that I airbrushed and didn’t get quite right on the stripes, and then picking out the various other colours on the model.

White Trim


Note the gradient on the shoulders and collar, from a cool grey to white.

Of course, with me, it’s never as simple as a paint by numbers. I had spent a fair bit of time with the airbrush trying to get the right shadows and highlights on the model, so if I had simply painted all these trim pieces in a flat, uniform white, it would look out of place next to the gradient of dark to light purple/pink on the main body. Another issue was that trying to paint white straight over purple with acrylic paints can be a little difficult, due to the purple underneath showing through.

Fortunately, both these issues can be solved the same way. To start painting my white, I undercoated with a grey, which due to having a bit better coverage, blocked out the underlying purple much better than had I tried to simply paint white over purple. Next, instead of painting the whole thing white, I built up the colour, using wet blending techniques to go from my grey up to white where the light is directly hitting it. I also added just a touch of P3’s Frostbite to my whites and greys, which is a very light, desaturated blue, just to make the white a little on the cool side because of colour theory.


I also wanted to practice my freehand skills with this model, so I decided to try to paint a bear paw logo on the top of this warjack.

For a lot of people, this sort freehand can be a very intimidating technique. Especially when we are starting out, most of our hobbying consists of painting inside the lines — paint this panel red, that panel brass, that hose grey, etc., so it can be a big jump from simply following the detail on the model to creating your own detail.


If you don’t have a wet palette, make one. Now.

However, simple shapes like this aren’t too hard once you’ve developed some brush control. I’ve found there to be three tricks to freehand: a reference image to look at while you work, the right brush, and the right consistency of paint. I could go on and on about brushes and paint consistency, but that could be a whole article in itself.  Suffice it to say you want a good brush, not too big and not too small, with a decent sized body and a nice tip. And for paint, you need it thin enough that it flows nicely off the brush and onto the model. And for the love of Bob Ross, our almighty god of painting, use a wet palette.

One little secret I will let you in on, however, is the use of acrylic inks to thin your paint as opposed to water. There are certain colours, such as white and yellow, which don’t have very good coverage over a dark basecoat, and thinning them down to the proper consistency reduced the coverage even further. You can counter this by using something like Holbien or FW artist ink as a thinning medium; these inks have a very thin consistency but a very high pigment density, so by mixing them with acrylic paints, you’re getting the consistency you want without sacrificing pigment density and coverage like you would be doing if you thinned with water.

Silver & Gold

Next up was metallics. As this is a cool steampunk robot, I have plenty of iron and brass to paint.  Vallejo’s Metal Colour Gunmetal Grey makes for a great base colour, covering like a dream, however as an airbrush paint, it can be a touch thin for brush painting, so I like to use P3’s silvers for some of the details where the VMC is just too thin to effectively pick out the details, like on the rivets.  For brass, again, I went to the P3 line and used Molten Bronze as my basecoat.


Not cheating. Just make sure you know the difference between Nuln Oil and Nuln Oil Gloss when you’re shopping.

With the base coat on the whites and metallics all blocked in, it came time for a wash to add some definition. Which means it’s time to bust out our old friend, Nuln Oil. Now, Nuln Oil and some other GW washes (they call them shades) are, sometimes unfairly, referred to as “talent in a bottle.” I can see where they are coming from; a lot of the time, simply slathering a warrior model in Nuln Oil makes the paint job instantly adds the depth to a model that makes it get to the “hey, this isn’t bad” stage. And they are one of the few products that I will dip into GW’s range to pick up, because I don’t know exactly what it is, whether it is consistency, surface tension, or pigment density, but GW’s washes just work.

However, we don’t want to simply apply it using the “slather the entire model with a big brush” method. This is for a couple reasons. First, I spend a lot of time airbrushing this model, and I liked the vibrant highlights. I didn’t want to dull them down with a layer of Nuln Oil all over. Second, there are a lot of large, smooth surfaces on this model, and slathering them with an acrylic wash will undoubtedly create some unsightly “coffee stain” type marks, especially on the whites that I had worked on blending and would end up having to repaint if they got too much wash on them.


After the wash, but before re-highlighting the metals.  Note that the washes had done the shadows, but ended up making the metallics a little too dark and dull.  Also check out the freehand bear paw logo.

So, I chose to be a little more targeted with my wash, applying the Nuln Oil to all the metallic parts, as well as into some of the recesses and around things like rivets and spikes, in order to get that shade without ruining the big flat areas of my model. Once that dried, I pulled out GW’s Druchii Violet, the purple version of Nuln Oil, and applied that to all the brass bits. This seems a little odd, but consider the colour wheel. Purple is directly across from gold on the colour wheel, so making those shadows on the brass have a purple tint does a few cool things, increasing your contrast and making the eventual highlights pop more.

The washes take care of the shadows, but with them done, we have to highlight the metals back up.  I used P3’s Pig Iron, Cold Steel, and Quick Silver on the metals, progressively highlighting up using layering, blending (as best as I could), and a bit of careful dry-brushing on areas like the punchy fists.  For the brass, I did something similar, highlighting up through Molten Bronze, Rhulic Gold, Solid gold, and a touch of something like silver or Vallejo’s Bright Brass as the very highest highlight. With these multiple layers of highlights, you can get a real nice true metallic metal (TMM) effect that is pleasing to the eye.

Final Highlights & Touchups

With the metals highlighted back up and the freehand done, we’ve only got a couple steps left. First, I took some very thin black paint and slipped it into some of the vents and perforations on the models, and places such as the top of the smokestacks; basically anywhere there was something that was supposed to be a slit or a whole on the model.

Finally, it was time for an edge highlight.  This is little trick to give the model volume and make it easier for the eye to recognize the shape.  It’s simply a very thin highlight, brighter than the surrounding area, along the upper edges of the model, which is the final step in really making this model pop at a distance of more than a foot or two away.


Look at how much brighter the brass bits are with the highlights, and note the edge highlights all over.

Now we have a beautiful looking Grolar, that has only one problem — it’s too beautiful. This Grolar has seen some action in the trenches of Llael; it shouldn’t look like it’s fresh out of the factory and perfectly clean.  So stay tuned next time for some weathering and finishing touches!

Black Dragon Spriggan Paintlog

So, in my efforts to bash out the backlog on my shelf of shame, I managed to finish off my Spriggan that had been sitting there since, well, since Spriggans were considered to be one of Khador’s best warjacks.


For me, this model was a study in freehand and weathering.  I stuck to my usual purple and pink colour scheme with the autumnal colours in the basing.  To be honest, when I started, I didn’t think it would end up looking this good.


I bought this model used, and had to strip some paint off, and of course, broke the spindly little arms off in the process and had to reconstruct them.  Then I primed it white and hit it with the purple base coat using an old Badger single-action airbrush.  My purple recipe is simply the Reaper Royal Purples triad of Nightshade (9022), Imperial (9023) and Amethyst (9014) purple, which with the right mixture of Vallejo airbrush thinner and flow improver, shoots through the brush pretty well.  Start with the darkest colour and work your way up, occasionally using a business card or a bit of silly putty for masking and to prevent overspray, and you’re in business.

Then it sat on the shelf for a year.

Of course, when I picked it back up, I noticed that there were a lot of issues with the model, as I had gotten a little better at painting in the meantime.  I had missed a lot of mold lines the first time around, and my first attempt at recreating the arms was not great.  There was some cleanup involved, but I didn’t want to have to respray the model, so I kept my cleaning to places where I was going to paint over anyways, or where I could easily conceal my scratching at it.

I also ripped off the arms to make it easier to paint and to redo the arms.  With a couple plasticard tubes, I managed to create a couple piston-looking things that could go over the brass rod underneath and which were a little beefier looking than the original arms that come in the box.

And then it was on to base coating.  I used mostly P3 and Vallejo Model Colour metallics to do the metal bits, and for the whites, I worked my up, with an undercoat of a medium gray, to Reaper’s Misty Grey (9090), which I find to be one of the most useful colours in my repertoire.  The pink on the lance and shield is also from Reaper; I used their HD Rosy Pink (29853) as an undercoat, Punk Rock Pink (09286) as a base, and Blush Pink (09262) for the highlight.  These are some very vibrant pinks, and have a home in many models in my army.

And then we have the freehand.img_1903.jpg

This is, in my opinion, the most impressive part of this model.  It catches the eye and, along with the weathering, is one component which goes beyond “here’s a model I painted” and really tells a story.  I’m not sure what to say about it; just having nice brushes, the right consistency of paint, and some reference material close by (in this case, a picture of the Black Dragons logo), and a single-colour freehand like this turns out to be less difficult than it looks.  I also freehanded the spiral on the lance, which wasn’t too hard, again, with the right brushes, right consistency, and a steady hand.

Washes add some depth to the model; I used Nuln Oil from GW for most of the wash, and added a little Druchii Violet for the brass bits.  It sounds funny, but I’ve found that a purple shade works really well on brass and gold because colour theory.  Being across the colour wheel from gold, purple shadows make the golden highlights really pop, or something like that.  I don’t know, I’ve never been to art school.  Highlight the metals back up, do a bit of edge highlighting, and we’re ready for weathering!

There were a few techniques I used for this weathering.  For the scratches, what I did was a line of dark colour in the scratch, with a line of highlight below, kind of like this Duncan video.  I also used the sponge technique, applying some dark silver like GW Leadbelcher or P3 Pig Iron using a leftover bit of some pluck foam.  Then I followed up with some P3 Umbral Umber overtop using the same technique.  Both GW’s Typhus Corrosion and Agrax Earthshade can create rust streaks, and Typhus Corrosion is also good for adding dirt and mud effects around the feet and legs of the jack and bottom of the shield, as well as sooty crud on the smokestacks.

When it comes to weathering, placement is key.  Remember how I mentioned earlier that last year’s me kind of slacked off on the mold lines?  Well, here is a nice way to cover that up without worrying about exactly matching the colour at that point on the smooth blend.  That scratch is supposed to be there; it’s weathering…


Also, weathering tells a story.  I put a lot of weathering on the shield, for example, because it’s a shield.  Blocking blows is what it does, so it’s going to get beaten up.  Also, the lance is going to get scratched up as it penetrates the armour of a Cygnaran warjack, destroying its boiler and wrecking it.  A jack with a punchy fist is going to have scratches on the fist and on the forearm from punching.  Ideally, Khador jacks will have more damage on the front as they face down their foes rather than running away like cowards.  And so on.  I took a while to get into weathering because I like a “clean” look, but even a few scratches can really help the model go tell a story.

I have to admit though, it took a lot of courage to take this freehand that I spent a couple hours working on and which looks great and start randomly stippling crap on.  But in this case, once I got over the fear that I would ruin my wonderful freehand, I came up with something that is so much better and more visually interesting than it was before.  So, my one piece of advice would be to not fear the weathering.  Doing it well can really take things to the next level, and the worst that can happen is you end up repainting something, which in the grand scheme of things is no big deal.

And so, we get the final product.  It turned out a lot better than I anticipated when I started, and while there are some imperfections here and there, I’m very happy with it.  Now, to figure out who to take it with on the table.  Hmmmmmmm, perhaps Vlad1 for the anti-stealth in a rocket list, or maybe Kozlov once the Man-O-War theme comes out?