This story starts with a Christmas sale at the friendly neighborhood gaming store. While browsing, I managed to talk myself into spending money on the newfangled infantry fighting vehicle model for the latest dose of plastic crack from my favorite dealer. This was not the best purchase, because I was none too excited when I got home. But I’d bought it, so I took the shrink wrap off the box, opened it up and got out the instructions. Skimming through them, I found a spot where there were no part numbers. Mistaking this for a misprint, I went searching through the sprues for parts of the right shape to be the pieces involved in the operation in question.
That’s when I started to suspect something was wrong. None of the sprues in the box had the right parts, and the missing pieces were rather important. To be specific, they formed the stand that allowed the model to appear to hover (if you ignore the fact that you can still see the stand). Box art showed these pieces to be clear, and online unboxing videos showed a sprue of clear plastic with the two parts I did not have. Now I was a bit miffed. This wasn’t like some optional component I could choose to omit, so I needed to find a solution. Well, my first thought were the bitz merchants online who routinely part out kits. Then I realized, “This is a manufacturer’s mistake, I should start with customer service.”
I sent them an e-mail, then sent them another one when an auto-reply said I should provide more information (like the model number). Then a few days later I get a message telling me a replacement had been dispatched. I thought, “Great, I’ll have my stand, and I’ll be back in business.” A few details began to creep into my consciousness. First was fairly innocuous, the $0 order put in my account history linked back to the full kit. Well, that could be explained by the website not having product pages for individual sprues. Then there was the FedEx shipping weight – two pounds. And box dimensions too big for the tiny clear sprue I was expecting. I began to suspect they had not sent me a replacement sprue, but a replacement kit.
And I was proven right when the box arrived. A whole, still shrink-wrapped kit. My initial reaction was “Why would they do that? All I needed was a sprue.” But some logic began to tell me why it happened this way. Let’s look at it from a business process perspective. You are a company that produces plastic model kits on injection-molded sprues. You have hundreds of products, each product contains anywhere from one to a dozen sprues. Are you going to maintain a warehouse of every possible replacement sprue you might need to send out? Not if your quality control is any good. You’d be paying for warehousing and staff while hanging on to a lot of unsold inventory ‘just in case’. What about grabbing a sprue from the factory? Well, not all of the products are actively being pressed at any given time. There might not be any for that replacement part lying around. Plus you’d disrupt the finely tuned processes. And forget retooling a machine to mold a one-off. That would just be absurdly expensive. But, you do have a worldwide distribution network which is already tuned to pick and ship completed kit boxes on-demand. The marginal cost drops to the box plus shipping. That is far lower than the alternatives, and faster as it is not a deviation from routine for the supply chain.
Long story short, I got a complete kit from customer service to replace my incomplete kit, and they don’t want the incomplete kit back. So what am I to do with the incomplete kit? It’s almost the whole thing, just missing a stand. I could be boring and rig up a stand, it’s going to be obscured by the vehicle body anyway.
But then I’d be living down to my Glib reputation.
Instead I decided to be funny. We have this oversized, high-tech IFV for power-armored super soldiers. What does it do when the lift systems break down on a low-tech backwater? A conversation between the fictitious driver and the resident mechanic came to mind.
Ragnmar: “The Grav systems won’t grav and the turbines won’t turb.”
Dorian: “That’s not technically-”
Ragnmar: “I don’t need to be technically accurate, I need to be moving towards the front. I’m stuck in this circus!” *gestures wildly at the tents around them*
Dorian: “While it may be a colorful local encampment-”
Ragnmar: “No, it literally is a circus. They have trained lions and everything.”
Dorian: “Normally I’d get a transport in here and put you back in reserve. But our ships left the system to-”
Ragnmar: “Skip to what you’re actually going to do.”
Dorian: “Do you need to be back at full capacity, or just moving again?”
Ragnmar: “Just get me moving again.”
Dorian: “Excuse me, circus lady, I’m going to need your help…”
And so I thought of the super-advanced grav-IFV up on wheels being pulled into combat by circus animals. That, of course, is not something the kit is designed to do. So now we’re firmly into what is affectionately known as “Kitbashing”. To give a dry definition, at its most basic, kitbashing is the act of customizing the appearance of a model by using parts from outside the kit from which it is normally made. Sometimes, this is as simple as swapping out heads on infantry. Other times, it gets complicated to the point where the original model is unrecognizable. We’re aiming for in between, with an amusing scene that is still somewhat complicated in terms of the customizations, but still recognizable as the original model.
So, what do we need?
We have the unassembled base kit without stand. We need wheels, circus animals, some thing to attach them to the main body, and the circus lady. I’ve also decided that I want this scene to be modular, that is, if I want to deploy the model to the tabletop, I can detach it from the scenery, drop it on a jury-rigged stand and run it alongside the complete version. So, the wheels should be attached to a chassis, but not the vehicle’s chassis proper. This frame is one more thing for the list.
Now to accomplish this we need to look for parts. The chassis to hold the wheels is going to be new construction. New construction? Yes, there is a material commonly called ‘plasticard’. It is the not the same plastic as the average model, but sold in sheets, bars, tubes, etc. It is one of the vital tools in the arsenal of anyone looking to do more than just swap parts. Being plastic, you don’t need any special paints or tools to work with it versus the normal kits, and it supplements the more expensive detailed moldings. For something like a chassis between some wheels, tube and beam plasticard is ideal. It spends most of its time unseen, and even if seen, will look the part it’s trying to play.
An easy way to attach the animals to the vehicle is by using actual chain. Craft store chains in ‘hematite’ color are easy to come by and of the right scale to fit in with the model. They’re metal, but we don’t need to paint them or anything, since they’re already in the right color. We will need to cut them to length, so I’ll have to make a note to find my wire cutters. So, now we need to source some animals. Preferably ones that are posed like they’re pulling something. I spent a lot of time on this one. And I found the perfect solution. It’s an older kit, but it’s a fantasy chariot that is supplied with both horses and lions as options for draft animals. I’m not sure yet if I want to use the wheels from the chariot kit, they’re kind of small. The wheels are important given their juxtaposition to the high-tech main body. They also need to look like they’d be able to hold the weight. After a while, I decided to order some from the internet and save the chariot wheels for another day.
Now we come to our Circus Lady. There are two things this part must do. First, it must not look like I just grabbed a basic soldier and gave it a whip. Second, it must still look like it belongs to the same faction. The whip is vital, as the stagecoach driver, she’ll be using it to direct the animals pulling the whole thing. But all the whips I have belong to a different faction. We’ll call them BDSM Elves, since that’s a non-trademark infringing way of getting the point across. I can’t use a whole model from the BDSM Elves because, well, that wouldn’t be able to pass for the faction the IFV belongs to.
I’m somewhat surprised that I got fifteen hundred words into an article about kitbashing before I mention the concept of the Bitz Box. It’s really as simple as it sounds. Most kits have more options than can be used on any given model, so there are bits left over. These get thrown into a box in case they can be used later. The base model for our Circus Lady will be built around the sorceress body that came with a dragon rider kit. She was the option I didn’t use when assembling it. However, she does have a whip arm and is built to the same scale and proportions as the models of a sect within my main faction. Since I have a lot of bitz not used to make these other girls, I can mix and match until the Circus Lady fits in with the proper faction.
Picking through my Bitz Box for these silent sister pieces, I find a minor problem. The whip hand is a left hand – and so are all of the good hands for the silent sisters. A ‘bad’ hand in this case is a hand gripping something I don’t want in the finished piece. I do have some pointy silent sister hands, and a right handlebar hand from… lets call it ‘cyborg cavalry’. That’s close enough. While this right hand on the handlebar is not a perfect fit aesthetically, it is to the correct scale, and more importantly, it is easy to make the whip fit. We just need to conduct a little part surgery and we can make a right arm. Joining the whip to handle is the easy part. Next we need to take one of the ‘bad’ hands and separate the forearm so we can graft that forearm onto the cyborg cavalry hand. Shaving of the right slivers of plastic, and we can hide the fact that the hand doesn’t fit.
Since the sorceress model was designed to be seated, we need to adjust the legs. In fact, lets take this armored leg with a loincloth and use that to make her stand. In a nice bit of fortuitousness, the curve of the waist chain on the sorceress matched the curve of the top of the armor on the loincloth leg. So it was easy to trim down the torso and glue it in place. The sculpt almost looked like it was meant to be. Fitting in the right leg was less cooperative. I grabbed the completed version of the kit (the one that gets to have its stand) to use as a measuring device for her pose. Now, you may have noticed that some of these pieces are black and the rest are gray. This is not because they were molded from black plastic. No, this was because the sorceress is an old model. One I bought when I still primed on the sprue. This technique did not work out so well, because it resulted in weak joints and models that broke more often than I liked. To glue these pieces into the kitbash, I have been carefully shaving off the primer to expose a clean plastic surface that the plastic glue can react with.
Since I only have two sorceress torsos and multiple silent sister heads, I do the more drastic trimming to the head and give it a profile more like the one made for this torso. While the sorceress as delivered had a backside to make HM happy, it doesn’t take much to notice that our Circus lady doesn’t have a backside to speak of. And so we come to Green Stuff? What is Green Stuff? It is… green. Actually it is two-party epoxy putty that very often comes with one component tinged blue and one yellow. This gives an easy indicator of when they’ve been properly mixed because it turns green. It is also sold in other colors, but “Green Stuff” is widely recognized as the generic term for the material. While still freshly mixed it is somewhat adhesive and quite malleable. It is used both to fill gaps and to sculpt components. After about a day or so, it will have hardened up and can be sanded, cut or painted. My thought was we should sculpt ourselves a back half to the loincloth. I overestimated my skill as a sculptor. Still, I filled the gap, and have something hanging down there. We’ll let it cure and see what there is to work with.
Next step – we start assembly on the main vehicle.