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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.