I’m Batman…. (That’s No Train Part 9)

I am of an age, where one of the first big event movies in what has become a golden age of Superhero movies on the big screen was 1989’s Batman, directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton as Batman, Kim Basinger as Vicky Vale, and Jack Nicholson as Jack Napier….ok…The Joker :). This was one of the first movies I remember being super excited for (I was 10), and having toys come out with it. I loved the Batmobile, it was just awesome beyond all conception to me. Both our wedding anniversary and my birthday were in the past few weeks, and my wonderful wife knew I’d been going back and forth on buying myself a massive LEGO set for months, and given we can’t go out for dinner or get away for a weekend as we normally do for our Birthday/Anniversaries that all fall within a couple of weeks of each other, she offered to buy me said giant LEGO set. So with that, yes, this is another “That’s No Train” project, past ones can be read about here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8!

You know you are loved when someone gives you 3308 peices of LEGO for your wedding anniversary/birthday present.

This is LEGO, not rocket science, but it filled my birthday that conveniently fell on a Sunday nicely. I find building LEGO to be incredibly soothing. There is something satisfying about finding the pieces in the bags and clicking them together. There is also something incredibly easing know that LEGO’s production and packaging has virtually eliminated the possibility that you are missing a piece. There are ample books and TV shows out there on LEGO’s philosophy and manufacturing process, but it is immensely impressive to me that as part of their growth, they also focused on the little thing, like making it such that no kid who gets their product (big kid like me or actual kid) can’t finish building their toy because it is missing parts. As you can see in the pictures that follow, there were 24 numbered bags for each stage through the very thick book with 614 steps, and two more bags of oddball parts plus the tires loose in the box!

The first 3/4 of the build, from unboxing to my dinner and cake break.

Again, one of the nice things about LEGO is that it goes together and comes apart. I did make some mistakes through the build, but when you find them, it is easy enough to disassemble a part of the set to fix your error. I started around noon, and stopped around 6 for dinner. I don’t know that I would say I am the fastest LEGO builder, but I am certainly not slow. I find it very zen working through the pieces, and once I start I just kinda get in a groove and keep going.

What’s a Birthday without some cake? In this case, home made S’mores Cake from my wife. It was awesome.

After a couple of hours break for dinner and desert, and some porch visits with friends, it was back at it and finishing the massive build in a day. I have to give Lego a lot of credit, they really do put a lot of effort into making these large sets look like what they are, and have play value if you were so inclined. On the Batmobile, the steering wheel in the car turns the front wheels, the canopy slides and opens, if you turn the jet exhaust at the back, it makes the twin guns pop out the top like in the movie. It also came with three minifigs of the Joker, Batman and Vicky Vale, along with a little stand for them as if they were at the top of the Gotham Cathedral at the end of the movie.

Gallery of the finished LEGO Batmobile. yes, its big. Its approximately 8″ wide by 23″ long. And every bit is awesome!

This is one of those things that it was absolutely the right thing at the right time. Something that was both fun and soothing to fill some hours, of course we watched the 1989 Batman movie while I was building it, and at least in my mind it still stands up for what it is. Some of the effects maybe haven’t aged great, but so much of it was practical in an era before CGI, it actually still looks good as it doesn’t show the age that early CGI does as technology has rapidly advanced.

A present so good it needed a whole new shelf! LEGO 1989 Batmobile with my 1989 Batman and Joker Funko POP Vinyl figures.

So with that, I actually have no projects in the house that are not trains! Everything is either the Liberty Village Layout, the Canyon Road Diorama, or other miscellaneous models I’ve never finished or want to upgrade. I am going to try and keep it this way for a while, partly so I make some serious progress on the trains, but also because I don’t really have space for anything else, or to add more shelves, so the next “That’s No Train” really needs to be something I want to do. No doubt in time when I need a distraction from Trains, something will inevitably present itself.

May the 4th Be With You (That’s No Train Part 8)

Happy Star Wars Day! As they say, May the Force Be With you! This is a good one (at least as far as I’m concerned!). I am, at my core, a geek/nerd whatever term you choose, I don’t care. I like nerdy things. All my life I have loved Star Wars. I remember having Star Wars toys in the toy chest in my Kindergarten classroom (boy those early Kenner toys we beat the crap out of at playtime would be worth something nowadays to collectors!), I remember family trips to Tennessee in the 1980’s and first seeing Star Wars movies in bits and pieces on motel TV’s. Yes, this is another That’s No Train project, past ones can be read about here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7!

This project is a little diorama/oversized book nook with the Bandai 1/12th scale Darth Vader figure. It is a model of the best scene in the best movie since the original trilogy, Rogue One, the hallway scene where Darth Vader appears and unleashes his fury on the rebel crew trying to get the stolen Death Star plans away to the rebellion. This was one of the legendary “re-shoots” of this movie, where after the first cut was done, they realized it wasn’t working and they went back to add scenes to fix it. Its hard for me to imagine what this movie was like without this scene, though its also hard to remember that in 1977, the world was told Darth Vader was this bad assed villain, but you never really got to see him in action in the original Star Wars. Here, in this prequel to A New Hope, you get a glimpse of Vader unleashed, and its awesome!

I am a tease, the finished Vader hallway ridiculously lights up my entire home office from its new home on top of a bookcase. The best part is, this will be floating above my head behind me in work zoom calls now!

I have built several of the 1/12th Scale Bandai Star Wars droids, and I wrote about them in That’s No Train Part 5, the Bandai kits are made for the Japanese market, where there is markedly less tolerance for poorly designed and engineered kits. Over the years, the handful of kits from the big Japanese manufacturers Hasegawa, Tamiya and Bandai have far outstripped those from American manufacturers in terms of the quality of design and ease of building. The Vader is the first non-droid kit I have done, and I had my doubts about the more human kits and how they would look compared to a droid that can be a bit mechanical and chunky at the joints without looking wrong. In the interests of full disclosure, my motivation for my take on this project came from two YouTube videos of builds of the Vader from Boylei Hobby Time, one where he first lit the light sabre, and one where he did a diorama that I used as the inspiration for mine. See them here and here. I am, quite pleased with how the Vader looks. I basically built it as per the instructions aside from the light sabre and painting all the little details rather than using the stickers or decals provided (it comes with both, which is a nice tough for those less familiar with water slide decals but who want a nice looking build).

A collection of work in progress shots of designing and building the hallway box diorama. As with all the Bandai kits I’ve built, the build is straightforward and no mussing about.

For this to work, the light sabre needs to light up, doing so, was a challenge, until I saw the videos above, and of course, through the wonders of the internet, you can buy LED filaments without them being in a bulb, that work off 3V batteries. Lights using 3V coin cells or 9V batteries are what I have become familiar with wiring for, so knowing I could buy these from AliExpress meant I was working with something I knew. The harder part, especially with bars closed was finding red cocktail straws! I eventually found some on Amazon…Incidentally, if anyone needs 998 red plastic cocktail straws, I have some I can send you!

The LED Filament Bulb, testing getting it to stay straight with the cocktail straw, and with Vader holding it, the difference when the room lights are on vs. off is tremendous in terms of the glow.

In deciding to do the diorama, I needed to make some arches for the spaceship corridor Vader appears in at the end of Rogue One. In looking at how big the figure is, that made even a small hallway, 8″ square. These arches were going to be big. When I drew it in CAD, I drew four arches as you can see in the photos, as I looked at the model, that was clearly too many. I was however, struggling with how to create three identical (or close enough) arches that would look good. In discussing with an engineer friend, he noted he had a home PLA 3D printer and that the arches just fit on the build plate, he could 3D print them for me. Initially I thought about having him print one and casting them, but that would have been a massive mold and a ton of resin, vs the cheap cost of the 3D prints. He was able to run three off, then bring them to me. Figuring out the best settings meant that one of the three was just an outline, but I was able to add styrene walls to enclose it, and the difference is all hidden by paint. In fact, the imperfect surface of the extruded 3D print is perfect for the beaten up spaceship look that the hallway kind of has in the movie. As with everything of late it seems, the arches and box was stretching the size of things I can fit into my spray booth the airbrush. I got it done, but not without plenty of finagling and a bit of swearing at myself!

The arch design on my computer, building the box without arches, the 3D printed arches arriving and then painting and assembly up to a basically complete shot but with the lights on so you don’t get any real effect from the light sabre.

So, with this done, I have no “non train” model kits on my workbench (other than a 3000+ piece Lego Set that was my Birthdayversary present for our wedding anniversary last week and my birthday next….). Maybe I’ll write about that too. So without further ado, having drawn this out impossibly longer than any sane person would, I give you, The Dark Lord of the Sith, Lord Vader from Rogue One…

POP! Goes the Selfie (That’s No Train Part 7)

So, sometime before Covid, I decided I was going to do a Funko POP! Vinyl Selfie of myself. I did one years ago for my better half, and thought I should do one for myself. Yes, this is another That’s No Train project, past ones can be read about here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6!

After some time trying to figure out how I wanted to immortalize myself, I settled on something I don’t do anymore, for many years from my mid-teens to late 20’s I Umpired Baseball. I like to think I was quite good, I was a Baseball Ontario Level 3, which was the highest level I could achieve without having to go through lengthy assessment processes and even more involved training. I enjoyed it, but eventually, my knees and back told me that it was time to stop doing it if I wanted to be able to walk in the future.

Pictures of my Umpiring Baseball around 2006ish. I have precious few photographs of me actually doing this.

Making the custom POP starts with a “Blank DIY” pop that Funko sells. They sell male and female versions, they can be hard to find, I got mine from Amazon to be perfectly honest. In terms of how to create, I use Air Dry Clay for it, you can make shapes, its got a decent working time, and will stick on its own if you want, but that can also he helped with a thin coat of Weldbond Glue once you have the clay formed to shape if it doesn’t want to stay stuck on its own.

Various work in progress photographs. Applying clay and working out the mask and glasses.

Making the Umpire POP Selfie, I wanted my right fist up making an out sign (my favourite thing to do was ring people up when they were out), and holding my face mask. The arm move was easy, carefully cut off the arm with a jewellers saw, drill in either side for a pin, and re-position/glue. The clothes from clay would hide the worst of the cut. The mask, was tougher. My first try in the pictures was done with rolling out clay. It, frankly looked kludgey and didn’t stay together. With a spark of inspiration, I realized that aluminum armature wire used for making figures would be perfect, it is easily shaped, keeps its shape, and can be glued. I actually wound up using my favourite “non-glue” Bondic, a UV cured adhesive. I also out of the blue recently got an email from a fellow modeller Ric De Candido who I haven’t talked with in a while about a product he had been introduced to from Tamiya, a metal primer. I had picked some up for train projects, but painting the mask was the first time I put it to use. A couple of coats with the built in brush in the cap and it took a coat of spray glossy black from the airbrush perfectly. Sometimes, things just work out where you get a helpful tip from a friend you haven’t talked to just when you need it!

The Air Dry Clay Mask, it was not a success. I sadly seem to have not taken any pictures of the work in progress armature wire mask.

Painting on this was pretty straightforward. Base coated it in the pinky flesh tone similar to what POP uses, then brush paint the rest of the colours and details. I realize looking at the pictures above, I painted the ball bags on my hips for storing baseballs navy instead of grey. In the haze of recollection, I think at some point I was using two, one navy and one grey. I also used Microscale Kristal Klear to make the glass lenses. If I was doing it again, one area where I “cheeped” on this was making the glasses myself instead of buying a set from one of the numerous POP customizers on Etsy who 3D print glasses. Frankly, that may be an area I revisit in the future

It’s me, in POP! Vinyl form!

So with that, other than some touchups, another project off the workbench! The last time I wrote about a non-train project, I said I was gathering pieces for another project. This one isn’t that, so there is another That’s No Train on my workbench for another day.

What is this New Devilry (That’s No Train Part 6!)

Yes, I know, most of you come here for the train content, but, there are still two non-train projects on the go…well, one after I finish this post (Ed: or 2 because it took me so long to write this I bought another since writing this intro!). More non-train distractions here: 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5! This will be a photo heavy post, so you’ve been warned!

Wrapping up the year that has been in 2020, this is a project I finished in November, and just didn’t get around to finishing the blog post about. As things went haywire in March with pandemic fear, being sent home, lock-downs and everything else, like many, I distracted myself with hobbies. In my case, as you all know, I’ve got plenty, so why not add some more! I had picked up a single warhammer figure that I was going to do as a present for a friend, and then in looking at Meeplemart, a local Toronto gaming and miniatures store, over the years I had looked at Doctor Who and Lord of the Rings miniatures, but figure painting has never been something I’ve been good at when I’ve tried, or super interested in as a rabbit hole, yet here I am and I find myself buying the Games Workshop Balrog, as I decided I was going to build a miniature of one of my favourite characters from The Lord of The Rings, the Balrog of Morgoth from the mines of Moria/Bridge of Khazad-Dum part of “The Fellowship of the Ring”. Our house is a big Tolkien house, to the point that our cat is Gandalf the Grey Fur…check out his Instagram!!

Screen capture from “Fellowship of the Ring” showing the Balrog approaching Gandalf on the Bridge of Khazad-Dum.

The gaming miniature kits are not huge, and not complicated, the detail and artistry is in the painting of them to create layers and effects, as you don’t really have sub assemblies, you need to paint and layer and detail in order as they go. Once I had the Balrog, of course, I started thinking about how to display it, and started going down rabbit holes. A white metal Gandalf figure from eBay here, cast resin dwarven columns there, LED effects (my usual source, Evans Designs)…and a big custom wood base to house it all…and before long I’ve gone from a Balrog figure in April to a full blown 12″ square diorama by May!!

A mega-gallery of building the Games Workshop Balrog of Morgoth gaming miniature.

The Balrog assembly was pretty straight-forward, because of its size, there were some seams that needed filling so they would vanish when painted. The miniature comes with both a whip and sword for the Balrog to hold in its right hand. In looking at them, I felt the sword looked more believable. The whip was defeating me on painting to get a realistic look, so I chose the sword for the Balrog to be wielding. The painting, and in particular, trying to recreate the fire look was one of my real challenges. As you can see from the pictures, I based it in white, for the hottest part inside the Balrog, with yellows, oranges and reds the further out towards the tips. I then went back and touched up the scales on his body where the flame is wrapping around them. For the rest of him, it is subtle, but there are washes of red across all the black of his wings to add a bit of texture and flame appearance across him.

Assembling Gandalf, plotting out the relationship of him holding aloft his staff to stay the Balrog’s progress.

With the figures well in hand, I needed to make sense out of the rest of the diorama. I had plenty of bits of scrap wood from layout construction, and having bought a new Jig Saw during the early pandemic, I was able to cut out the pieces I need to build a base I worked out a roughly 12″ square design base, and then using leftover white pine and MDF, cut out the shapes and built a core for the base. This would hide wiring and create a portion of the bridge of Khazad-Dum.

Easy base building for the diorama. Complete with opening door on the side to access wiring, and a wiring channel under the bridge so I could pull wires after adding rock castings and air dry clay. The last couple show the finished diorama and the hidden wiring door in use.

For the rocks, I decided to cast my own, to both work on my casting skills, and so I could modify them as I saw fit and not be dealing with pre-painted items. I did buy a different slower setting resin because of the size of the two main rock castings for the cliff face. The molds are from Woodland Scenics, and are designed to be used with lighterweight material than the resin I used, but since the weight wasn’t an issue for me, I went with the heavier resin.

Casting Rocks in resin. I could have used a lighter weight material, but I know the resin and I had it for other casting projects. Working on the installing the castings and the resin columns once they are installed.

Once I had my rocks cast, I epoxied the large castings into place after cleaning up and adjusting them to fit, and used a number of smaller rock castings to build up the base around the columns. The base and gaps were filled in with air dry DAS clay, this let me work it into the gaps, and smooth/create rock texture and crevices as appropriate. The base was too big to primer in my paint booth, so I rattle canned on primer on the patio in the fall. I could manoeuvre it to paint the detail and layering of colours inside, which I did. Some small things are hard to see in the pictures, but if you look closely, the helms of the dwarves on the columns have a shimmer. I added metallic medium over their helmets to look like Mithrel, which was mined in Moria. It seemed to me that the dwarves would have wanted their helmets to look impressive and show off the wealth of their underground empire.

Finished Diorama Photos. It doesn’t fit in my photo softbox, so makeshift will do! Trying to give a sense of the overall scale and lighting.
Two brief videos above of the finished Diorama of Gandalf challenging the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-Dum.

One more non-train project finished…and of course me being me, I’ve been buying the bits for another non-train project…but that is a distraction for another day (and after the day I had with trains today…that’s no bad thing)!

We Will Remember Them

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Above is the 4th stanza of “For the Fallen”, a poem by Laurence Binyon, written in September 1914, early in World War 1, written in response to the early casualties in the war, but long before the real horror of what the western front was to become was likely known or understood by most. This stanza has become a part of many war memorials, cenotaphs, and ceremonies of remembrance since then.

Remembrance Day is important, for many reasons, including for me, remembering my Great Grandfather who was fortunate to be one of those who came home from World War 1. I do not see it as a celebration of war, war is a terrible thing and should not be celebrated, but it must be commemorated and remembered. To me, Remembrance Day is an opportunity to thank those who have accepted the risk of being sent to fight and possibly die by serving in the armed forces, and an annual reminder of what can happen and the waste of life when we allow ourselves to reach the point where violence becomes an “answer” to our problems rather than trying to work together. There is so much anger and hatred sometimes when you watch the news, its easy to forget we can be good and work together.

Today, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, please take a moment and reflect on those you love and have lost, whatever the reason, and lets work together to make the world a better place for us all, so that no one else ever has to have their names added to a memorial to those killed in fighting.

For the Fallen:

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal 
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again; 
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound, 
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust, 
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness, 
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon
Originally Published: The London Times (1914)

These are not the Trains you are looking for (That’s No Train Part 5!!)

I have written in the past about my “non-railroad” modelling projects. This post is a grouping of projects, three I did some time ago, and one that I bought as part of my lock-down spending (and lets be honest here, yes, I have partaken in some retail therapy during lock-downs and stay at home orders and social distancing over the past 8 months!). You can read about previous “That’s No Train” projects here: 1, 2, 3, & 4.

So, if the title didn’t give it away, today I am talking about Droids, Star Wars droids to be exact, and the absolutely fantastic 1/12th scale droid figures from Bandai. For a number of years, Bandai has had a license for Star Wars models in Japan, and were able to have them imported into North America through a sub-licensee. It appears, that Bandai did not renew their license after 2019, as no new models have been announced.

My “Star Wars” shelf in my office, which has outgrown the shelf with the Lego Razor Crest on top of the case!

I had previously bought C-3PO, R2-D2 and BB-8 kits for my shelf of Star Wars stuff in my office/layout room (what can I say, I have varied interests and I like to have stuff out on display!). Over the summer, I finally broke down and bought a fourth droid that I had wanted for a while, K-2SO from Rogue One, the best Star Wars movie (come at me, I’ll have that fight!). Maybe I’m just biased as its the first Star Wars movie I saw in theatres that blew me away. I was too young for the Original Trilogy, and, well, the less we say about Anakin and Podracing…the better.

Some construction shots of K-2SO. Adding two “z” sized LEDs from Evan Designs behind the clear eyes so his eyes can light up.

The Bandai kits are designed for the Japanese market, which is much more demanding in terms of quality than North American modellers are. The kits are “snap together”, but that description does not reflect the quality of fit and finish if you are thinking of a snap-together kit you would buy from a North American manufacturer for our market. The parts literally press together and you can’t find the seams sometimes to get them back apart from a test fit! You don’t “need” to paint them, and for my other droids, I didn’t, for K-2SO, he looked, plain compared to the movie where he had a sheen. So, in searching, I found that Vallejo sells a “metal medium” that you can add to any of their paints to make them metallic, this meant I could mix a variety of greys/gun metals/blacks until I got a shade I liked, then add metallic. It comes though a bit in the pictures, but he has a delightful sheen to the finished paint.

Similarly, in looking, I found people online selling pre-made lighting kits. I didn’t see the point in that vs buying my own LEDs and doing my own thing. I was placing an order in from Evan Design in September for layout use and for another non-train project, so four LEDs for his eyes (twice what I needed, good call, I broke one and still have a spare after finishing!). It was an interesting challenge threading the wire through the kit, not impossible, but one which required thought as i worked my way though it. When I got to his lower leg below the knee, there was no way to thread inside the leg that I could see (especially as that was where I needed to solder wire extensions onto the leads on the LEDs), so I used my standby magic adhesive Bondic to hold the wires in place behind his leg.

My collection of Bandai Star Wars droids. R2-D2 and C-3PO, BB-8, and now K-2SO. The last shot is K-2SO with a Black Series 6″ Jyn Erso.

I used a combination of the kit decals and sharpie gold, silver and copper red paint markers for K-2SO’s detailing. Where it made sense to use the decals, like the Imperial Crests on his shoulders, I did, where I could use paint, I used paint, it creates a more unique finish and makes my K-2SO mine, rather than buying a toy version or how anyone else finishes theirs.

Getting some use out of the photo soft box I bought a few weeks ago to take the photos of the finished droid models.

With that, I have two more non-train projects nearing completion on my workbench. As much as I like doing other things, I don’t have a lot of room to display more side projects, and I need the workbench space for large buildings I need to get building for the layout!