Saturday, April 2, 2016

Meijin Modeler - Joshua Darrah

Greetings plamates! Welcome to another edition of Meijin Modeler- where we get up-close and personal with some of our most admired mecha builders, to gain insight on how they work, how they play, and possibly get an idea of why they're so damn good at what they do!

      Our featured modeler for today has a very unique way of customizing his kits: a technique that requires the ultimate in plamo surgery precision, which catapulted his one-of-a-kind entry to the top spot in the Australian leg of last year's GBWC, earning him a shot at the world title. Ladies, gents, and everything in between - I give you the one man who went and won himself a GBWC trophy with an unpainted kit...
Joshua Darrah!

Click on the Read More link for the rest of this post... (warning pic heavy)

I've been raving about Josh's work since I saw some pics he shared of his Sinanju WIP. I just couldn't believe such precision could be achieved with the same common tools we all use. It came as no surprise when I heard he took 1st place at last year's GBWC Australia, and I've been dying to pick his brain since. He has granted my wish most generously, and today I share with you all his take on the hobby we all love!

Q. What is your full name, nickname, or online name?
A. My online name is actually my real name, Joshua Darrah.

Q. How old are you, and how long have you been building kits? 
A. I am 36 years old, and I have been building model kits of all types since I was 12 years old.

Q. Are you married? Do you have kids?
A. I have a lovely girlfriend in my life, and no kids yet!

Q. Where are you from and where do you currently live?
A. I was born in California USA, then I moved to sunny Queensland in Australia when I was 8 years old. So I’ve lived in Brisbane, Australia for pretty much 30 years.

Q. What other hobbies do you have aside from Gunpla / Model building
A.Oh where should I start! Ha ha! I love skateboarding, especially riding in the bowl, I love surfing, 
playing video games (I am dying to play The last guardian!!), I go on a cinema trip with my brother 
every week, I do trampoline wall running, ten pin bowling, origami, paper plane flying, ballpoint pen 
artwork, woodwork and photography and film.

Q. Where do you get your kits from? 
A. I buy my kits from my local supplier Zombster in Toowong, Queensland, and also from Hobby Link Japan.

Q. What is your current occupation?
A. I am a freelance creative director. I work on photography and film projects, graphic design and illustration projects, and I also teach primary and high school students traditional artwork and film workshops.

Q. What kind of music do you listen to while building models?
A. I’ll mix between relaxing music like sigur ros, to more energetic electro music like Madeon, but the one that I never get sick of is the Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn Offical Soundtrack. I have been building to that soundtrack for about 2 years now and I have no idea why I am not sick of it yet, ha ha!

Q. How did you get into building gundam / mecha kits?
A. I was searching hobby link japan for some articulated hands to customize a transformer figure, when I saw they had a sale. I spied the HG Gaia Gundam kit on sale so i bought one for myself and a friend. Opening up the box was a treat! My memories of model kits were from when i was 15 years old, and I never knew plastic runners could be molded in color! The ‘A’ plate blew me away. Then add in the fact that it was all snap together, I had nothing but fun. I built it in one sitting bot being able to tear myself away from my art desk, and immediately ordered my second kit!

Q. What kind of kits do you usually build? Is there any specific line you collect or just build anything you like?
A. Well i build anything I like the design of. If there is an MG of the design, I’ll buy that for sure. One of my favorite parts of a build is building the inner frame on it’s own, and having that on display for a week or so. So I love the MG line. The size and detail I find is a perfect balance for my tastes. Plus they are so much easier to customize than a HG without an inner frame.

Q. How many kits have you built to date?A.I just tallied the kits up the other week actually! I have built around 110 kits. Oh gosh, that number 
seems like soooo many! Ha ha!

Q. What is your favorite kit? Why?
A. This is SUCH a tough question to answer! I think I would have to say the MG Aile Strike Ver RM. The MG is so fun to build, the joints are the sturdiest i’ve had in a kit, and it just looks SO good out of the box! The Aile Striker pack makes it look so fast and fierce, and the fact that it comes with the launch style display base makes it a great model kit complete package. (The MG Sinanju OVA is a very close second. That kit is unbelievably cool!)

Q. What is your least favorite kit? Why?
A. I’m going to say this in a spin sort of way. I think my least favourite kit is the MG Victory Gundam Ver Ka. And this is for one reason. It is hard to keep it together, it feels very fragile and parts fall apart very easily (which is because Bandai did a masterful job of creating it to be transformable, so I give them props!). I LOVE this kit and it’s design so much. I want it to be my favourite kit, which makes the single small fact that it’s fragile so much more of a sad point for me. It’s like having your favourite chocolate cake right in front of you, but someone has sprinkled cat food on it. Ha ha!

Q. What is your dream kit?
A. Oh boy. An MG Kshatriya Ver Ka. Oh wow oh wow!

Q. What is your favorite tool in your toolbox, and why?
A. I love my hobby file. It’s small and is worth about $1. I use it for filing down nubs, filing away scribing mistakes, changing forms of plastic, and adding in armour separation. it’s my little buddy!

Q. When you do paint your kits, what do you use?
A. I decant tamiya Spray cans to use in my airbrush, and I love these paints. They dry lightning fast, and dry hard and resistant to touch. The ‘metallic’ tamiya spray colours (e.g.: ‘metallic silver’ and 
‘metallic gold’ are my favourites for painting inner frames and metallic details. I find them to be much tougher to the touch than other metallic paints like Alclad. And I just got a new airbrush, the Neo by Iwata. I am still saving buying a super duper airbrush until I have had more experience, but my skills so far mean this cheaper but good quality airbrush works well.

Q. Where do you get inspiration for your custom projects?
A. Oooh, I get most of my inspiration from the life size 1:1 RX-78-2 in Odaiba. I personally love gundam details that help convey the realistic details as if the MS was real the most. 

I look to photos of this design, as well as the mechanical archive books of the Zeta, RX-78 and GP01 for line art that shows panel lines, panel separation and realistic looking mechanical details. These archive books are a TREASURE TROVE of details inspiration! I then get energy from seeing builds by Shunneige and Naoki, and past and current GBWC entries. I love seeing the creative expression and individuality of other builders regardless of skills and experience (and fame!) that are different to my approach. That’s what is truly refreshing.

Q. How many hours a week do you spend working on models?
A. Some weeks it’s 4 hours, and some weeks it’s 35 hours! Ha ha!

Q. How do you stay motivated to finish large projects?
A. I normally don’t have trouble staying motivated with large projects. i think my brain loves the super focus and attention that those kind of projects demand of me. Maybe that’s made easier because I only do one large project per year or so. I get little boosts of satisfaction with each little stage of a project. For example I get really stoked with just finishing say, a foot of a custom. And i’ll carry that foot with me around just appreciating and reveling in my achievement for a few days like it’s a little trophy. Ha ha!

Q. Do you work on multiple projects simultaneously or do you focus on one project at a time?
A. Just like most gunpla-ers, I get so excited for new kit releases and the moment they’re delivered to my door. It’s like Christmas every day! Ha ha! I tend to focus on one build at a time, and I still have the most fun just snapping a kit together and posing it. But when I am working on a massive custom project (e.g.: my GBWC Sinanju) then while that is working, I will have breaks where I will build other kits just for relaxing fun.

Q. What techniques do you use when building your kits?
A. I love to do panel and armour separation. I find it so cool to see how I can edit a kit to make it look different by using very small details and changes. Over the past 3 years of modding gunpla the techniques I love most are panel line scribing, armour separation by cutting and filing, armour hole cutting by drilling and filing, some small proportion changes (e.g: making a neck joint higher), and adding in LED lights for eyes and thrusters.

      Believe me, I have practiced all of these for sooooo many hours! When I started panel lining and armour trimming my results were less than they are now, but it is so worth the time I put in. Now I can rely more on my hands to do what my brain hopes for! Ha! With all of these techniques, I am aiming to achieve a sort of ‘what it’d be like if it was real’ look. I picture as if our modern armies had these mobile suits right now, and I picture if I was to walk up to an army or navy base and see these mobile suits getting serviced and prepped. if I finish a custom gunpla and it makes me feel this, then I have achieved my goal.

Q. Can you share any building tips?
A. Hmmm, I am fighting the urge to say ‘practice’ is my only tip. Ha ha! Because i don’t want to sound like a classic grandpa with that kind of non-wisdom! But really, practice is the key. All of our brains perceive techniques differently, and of course our hands are individual to us. We also all have such varied backgrounds of art or craft or modelling experience. So one technique a builder uses might not suit another builder in the same way. When you try out techniques you learn what works best for you. But i’ll try and give some actual tips! Ha ha!

Nub marks - I love to leave as much of the nub on the part as possible when cutting it from the runner. Then to avoid stress marks, I use my hobby file to gently and slowly file down the nub smooth and flush. It means you can do an unpainted kit and have less chance of the dreaded ‘white’ stress marks of nubs.

Panel line scribing - I try multiple tools, a hobby knife blade in ‘reverse’ position, BMC chisel or a Trumpeter scriber. See which ones you like. And with panel line scribing, take your time. It will help you get much cleaner results. And I recommend never to scribe TOWARDS the point where two panel lines meet. You run the risk of skipping over the join! I always recommend starting AT the join location and scribing AWAY from the join. So for example a square would have 8 scribing directions. Each corner has the scriber starting and going away in two directions.

Adding details - I always sketch right on the gunpla itself. It helps me work out what panel lines might look good. Often i’ll sketch on a part up to 6 times to find which panel line combination I like the best! I also look to the RG kits and the ‘Master Archive’ gun dam books to get inspired by the details they have. Trust your eye, it know what you think looks cool!

Armour separation - Once again taking your time and making VERY small adjustments is the key here. I use my hobby knife and hobby file to make gaps bigger between armour panels, and when you’re working on gaps of 1-3mm, the smallest filing makes such a difference! I file a small amount, then check how it looks, file a little more then check again. I might repeat that 5 times on one armour piece!

Armour hole cutting - I use a pin rise and drill bits to drill out an ‘outline’ of the hole I want to cut. Then I gently and slowly shave with my hobby knife and file with my hobby file to make the edges clean and straight. Once again patience is the key here, it takes a long time but it’s worth it!

Unpainted kits - I like to pose and play with my finished customs, which is why i rarely paint my kits, because i’m scared of rubbing off paint! Ha ha! So instead of a matt top coat, I will often rub-sand the whole kit’s armour with a sanding sponge. It gives it a quick matt finish that looks great and doesn’t need any drying time! Ha!

Seam line removal - Here’s my tip. See if there’s a way to NOT remove it! Turn the seam line into an armour separation point and add detail to make it look like it’s a fantastic join! You can see this on the bicep armour and upper thigh armour on my GBWC Sinanju. Free yourself from the seam line covering prison and turn it into a detail! Ha ha!

FUN - Lastly I feel this is most important one. My main tip is to chase the fun of this hobby. Build kits you love. Customs in the ways you love. if you get bored with a build, that’s ok! Do something else! You may come back to it or you may never come back to it. That doesn’t mean it was a waste of time. 

      "I don’t recommend trying to ‘get better’ at the hobby or techniques. Instead try to do the hobby in a way that you are having fun, and THROUGH that process, you will actually be getting better!" 
Sometimes the fun is just buying a new kit and snapping it never to customise it. (90% of my kits are in this group! Seriously!). Sometimes the fun is in trying a new technique and having it work. Or the fun is in accidentally breaking a part, then being able to fix it and have it look better than before. Keep chasing that fun and I reckon everything else follows.

Q. What techniques do you use when painting your kits?
A. I LOVE painting. I use my airbrush mostly and I decant Tamiya spray lacquers to use through my airbrush. I don’t prime my kits before painting, but I do make sure to sand the parts smooth, and to wash them thoroughly to help the paint stick better. Like everyone I have a hundred skewers sticking up out of a foam block with tonnes of parts attached while painting, hoping to not flick them off and lose them behind furniture. Ha ha! I hand paint small details on the finished kit with tamiya enamels, and then panel wash in the panel lines. I make my own panel wash, which is thinned down tamiya enamel paint and it works great.

Q. Can you share any painting tips?
A. I just DIE for painting metallics. I lay down a rich glossy black base (Tamiya spray gloss black), and then lightly spray the gold or silver (tame spray ‘Metallic Silver’ - or - ‘Metallic Gold’) coat on top. It’s such a treat to see the metallic slowly reveal itself! I also make sure to use two lamps when painting. The multiple light sources really help to notice gloss finish, or parts you’ve missed, and just to overall help you get better results because your eyes can see everything much clearer. 
Once again I was so bad at 
using my airbrush when I first started 3 years ago, but now with the time I’ve put into using it (I've improved). Once again, take your time. if you go a little slower you will notice things and your results will come out just that little bit better!

Q. What kit/s are you currently working on?
A. Oooh right now i’m in the early stages of my GBWC 2016 Entry. I’m modifying the MG Zeta Plus C1 kit to have more modernised (Katoki style!) proportions, and of course then I will go through and add the super details I love. 

This kit is a challenge because it is a very old kit. So it’s not as straight forward to mod as say a modern kit (e.g.: MG Sinanju) was to do. but i enjoy the challenge! I realised one month ago that this time last year was when I started my GBWC Sinanju. And I just got it done in time. So that means I need to get cracking! Ha ha!
(and in amongst this new GBWC entry, I will be snapping fun little kits. Maybe the Freedom 2.0, or the MG Jesta Cannon, or MG The O. That thing is HUGE!).

Q. What advice can you give to people who are just starting in the hobby?
A. Chase the fun. Buy the kits that you love the design of, enjoy the process of the build. Get a drink and put on some music and soak up the build fun! There were many nights when I started where I would sacrifice sleep because I was having so much fun snapping a kit. Ha ha! If that happens to you then I think you’re doing it right. Ha! 
Also, get onto social media and start chatting with people who love the hobby too! You might even meet some people in your city that you can hang out with and snap kits together. There are so many great people in the community.

Q. What advice can you give to people who have been in the hobby for a long time?
A. You need to give up the hobby and mail me all of your backlog kits. Ha ha! Just kidding! 
     "Once again, go for the fun. Maybe trying some new techniques for a fresh change, let yourself get excited about new kits coming out that you’re interested in, try a custom that is completely different to anything you’ve done, or just keep enjoying the simple joy of a snap build."
       I fade in and out of hobbies all the time. I think it’s natural, so I never pressure myself to stay in a hobby and not ‘bail out’. There’s nothing wrong with getting bored or losing interest. You can always come back! I skateboarded when I was 17 years old, and then stopped. Then 16 years later as a 33 year old I suddenly started again! Ha!

      One thing with being in the hobby for a long time is people get asked for a lot of tips, advice and sharing of their techniques. This can be very tiring sometimes. And just because you are experienced doesn’t mean you have to share. It takes time and effort and it’s not for everyone. So don’t feel bad if you don’t feel like sharing or being super involved on social media. if you have the energy for that then great, but if not, no worries!

Q. Would you like to share an experience that might help the mecha modeling community in general?
A. I was excited when the HG Super Fumina was announced. And I am proud.

      Ha ha! Seriously though, yes the story of last year’s GBWC was a big one for me. My Sinanju MG kit started out as a build for myself. I had the idea to try and reimagine the Sinanju that everyone knows and loves. And i worked on it for about 2 months like a usual custom. Then i remembered “wait…that Gunpla competition, the GBWC, that’s on again this year, ahhh! I’ll enter my Sinanju!”. Having this goal was a really fun thing to have for a project. I had about 6 months to finish it and boy was I having fun with it. I started chatting with the Australian GBWC builders and we all shared progress. Then i remembered the categories for judging, creative concept, craftsmanship, and paint...

PAINT! I don’t paint my kits!! Gosh. This was the first moment where the Sinanju could have started to morph to be less about building for ‘me’, and more about building for the GBWC. I re-decided again that I would still not paint the armour on the Sinanju, because i wanted to make sure I loved the kit in the end as opposed to making it to be better at the competition.
      A couple months passed and then again I thought about the paint. I could potentially be losing 1/3 of judging points because of the lack of paint! And then what about decals?! Or would the judges like that panel line I did or I should I change it so they like it more a different way?
Multiple times during the 6 months build time, i would have moments like this. Where my brain would start to think more about trying to morph my Sinanju to be better ‘competition’. It was hard work to not give in to that feeling.

      I heard a story about another scale modeling competition. The entrants had spent about a year on their entries, and when the winners announcement came, one entrant didn’t get a place. And this person was so disappointed, so angry and frustrated, that they picked up their entry right then and there and threw it on the ground smashing it. They yelled “I spent a year on this! How did it not win!”. It sounded like a horrible state to be in.
"It showed me again what I knew was true. Understanding WHY you are doing something is very important. And it can get lost in the whirlwind that competition can bring. I remembered that above all I didn’t care if I won a prize, I wanted to make a Sinanju that made me happy just looking at it. If I didn’t win anything but I still could come home with a Gunpla that I enjoy immensely, then that’s what I want."
So I stuck with my approach, didn’t paint the armour, added details that I personally loved, and chased the fun. I am so happy that I was able to keep my mind on the real reasons why I love this hobby. And I still love looking at that Sinanju more than my trophy. It’s a nice feeling.
(I did actually love the Super Fumina by the way)

Q. Do you have a website or blog?
A. I post regularly on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook as "joshuadarrah”. And I also display and sell 
my art prints of my Gundam drawings worldwide through my website at

"I want to thank Otaku on a Budget for the chance to be a featured builder on the blog! This was great chatting and poking my own brain for thoughts, I had a great time. I wanted to give a big shout out to all the new or seasoned, young or old gunpla lovers out there! Thanks for all of you helping to make this hobby dare I say, the greatest hobby in the world?! YEAH!"
That was one hell of a ride! Big thanks to Joshua Darrah for taking time out of his busy schedule to share with us his adventures and thoughts on the hobby.

He may not know it himself, but I believe Josh shook the foundations of custom building by doing what we all thought was impossible: modify armor parts so cleanly that they need not be painted at all. He has raised the bar so high with his astonishing work, and seeing how he genuinely enjoys what he does, we can only expect even greater things from him!

Drop by his website if you're into scoring some top quality mecha illustrations!

That's all for now, stay tuned for the next episode of Meijin Modeler!
(*All images and links used with permission from the artist)

1 comment:

  1. Nice interview! Josh is a genuinely nice guy and is always willing to help you out!

    LOL...just noticed that in the last picture, thats my shoe and arm on the left hand side!