Monday, October 13, 2014

Basics or Bust: Reflections on Custom Building

Not too long ago I joined my first live event, and had my ass handed to me. It felt bad, of course, for someone to tell you your work isn't going to cut it because it lacked the basics. It sank in after a while, and then I felt ashamed. Not of my entry, but of myself - that I had the audacity to submit something I knew wasn't optimal. I went there expecting to fail, and so I did, miserably. I knew I was going to fail, because I was aware of the flaws on my entry. Why didn't I fix them? Why did I not do it properly? Why did I think the errors I could notice myself might be overlooked by the judges? I took some time to reflect on my actions, and I decided it would be good to share my findings with the community.

Click on the Read More link for the rest of this post...

When I started doing custom projects, I felt like I was already stepping into the upper echelons of model building. I thought to myself: "anyone can snap together and paint a kit, but it takes a wild imagination and a great deal of skill to build something unique". So, less than a year into the hobby, I started entering custom competitions. I went at it like a madman - treating kits like lego blocks, mixing and matching parts, using all sorts of unorthodox materials, until I found a combination that suited my taste.

I was somewhat successful, finishing in the top five of the first few events I joined. It gave me a sense of fulfillment, and I thought I was on the path to plamo nirvana.
Today however, looking back at those projects, I recall taking too many shortcuts. I remember painting over obvious mistakes. I get a lot of praise for my custom projects - but the truth is, I only take credit for my concepts and not my execution. What many of my peers don't realize is that I'm actually apprehensive of doing straight builds.

Look closely at this model. Did it take long for you to notice the errors?
When a straight build is presented, the audience already knows what to expect. There is nothing else to appraise but the accuracy and cleanliness of the piece, and perhaps maybe the action pose to add some flair. Hence, there is no room for error. A custom build on the other hand, is something entirely new to the viewer - there is much more to take in and process. Combined with the wow factor that many customs radiate, it is easy to overlook that the piece is actually lacking in the way of modeling basics.

Simply put, it is easier to notice mistakes on a straight build, because there is no crazy weapons load-out and/or psychedelic color scheme to disguise a protruding nub, a rough patch of paint, or a gaping seam line.
(samples of nearly perfect straight builds by Daniel Factory)

There are times when the builder himself is entranced by his own project that he fails to recognize his errors until someone else points them out for him. This can be considered an honest mistake, and one that can be addressed through frequent consultation with experienced builders. More commonly though, we are already aware of the errors we made before we even finish a project.

(I used the image on the right as a reference for my Freedom build, and decided not to fix the line encircled in red. Turns out it was an actual seam line that should have been filled.)

All projects have issues. How we address those issues is what separates a good modeler from a great one. We might have noticed a nub after painting the base color, and since "it isn't too obvious" we leave it as is. We might be aware of a seam running down the length of a gun, but decide not to fix it because "it's not for a competition anyway". We might have chosen to weather a model to cover up painting mistakes, even though that wasn't the original plan. In all these cases, we may still be happy with the outcome of our project - but when we know something is wrong and choose not to fix it, we are only taking a step back from our goal to improve.

Basics or Bust.

This will be my modeling mantra for all succeeding builds. All it means is that I have to practice proper modeling basics throughout a build, or not build at all. Whether I'm building for myself, for an event, or for a client - I have to practice modeling basics. I already have the tools and knowledge to create good models, I just need the right attitude and patience to see a project through properly.

So, in line with this idea, I'll be kicking off a Back-To-Basics series of tutorials, demonstrating the most rudimentary modeling techniques. It should be a good reference for novice modelers, and will pressure me to stick to my new found mantra - like a "practice what you preach" kind of thing. If I talk the talk, I'll have no choice but to walk the walk.

My advice to modelers just getting into custom building: Don't let your eagerness to create something unique take precedence over good execution.

Thanks for sticking around until the end, and I hope my reflections inspire you to try and find ways to improve as well.

Update 10/13/2014

Some insight on the subject from none other than Toymaker himself:

Until next time, keep building plamo!


  1. very nice article sir, will keep these points in mind. Well, I guess I really have to focus more on basics this time, my bad habit when customizing should be corrected.

  2. Points to ponder sir...

  3. looking forward to your tutorials

  4. Nailed it man, I see so many people new at custom builds produce some horrendous work in the name of creativity. Basics first for sure. I've been privately working on a heavily modded G-system build for the last 2 years, at least 60% of my time is spent on proper quality control, and proper remedy of my many errors. Can't wait to look at my first project that I can honestly say turned out exactly how I wanted.

    1. That sounds great, I'm sure you will enjoy the fruits of your labor once you've completed it!

  5. A very good article. I have a lot of crazy and wild ideas for custom builds but after reading this I began to question whether I have the skills and determination to execute my ideas or not. I guess I should stick with the basics for the time being. I'm looking forward to reading your back-to-basics tutorials!

    1. Thanks! Some people find that focusing on the basics kills creativity...which can be true to some degree, because it takes so much time and effort it could lead to a burnout...but I'm sure everyone wants their custom idea brought to life in the best way possible.