Building a More Realistic Jet

Accuracy...you're doing it wrong.

If you have been on the internet at all today you would have seen that Doogs' Models posted a lengthy article rejecting the long-standing and ever popular technique known as pre-shading. It has generated a lot of views and conversation which has been both positive and negative. While I have been known to utilize that technique, and still do to a lesser degree, Doogs' has a point. Regardless of how I feel about pre-shading, his article got me thinking about other aspects of finishing a model that do not jive with real life examples.

The point of modeling is to recreate an accurate representation of the real subject in a smaller scale. While some folks did not appreciate the subjective tone of Doogs' now viral post, he was simply pointing out that in no way is pre-shading an accurate portrayal of what we typically see on an aircraft.
What I do for a living allows me the unique perspective of comparing actual fighter aircraft on the flight line to how they are represented by fellow modelers in scale. I can tell you right now that Doogs' is one hundred percent correct. Panel line pre-shading of the entire aircraft is bogus for two reasons.
First, because it is "shading". Look at a weathered or even pristine aircraft and you will notice that there is no "shading" along each individual panel line.
Second, because it is uniform. If you examine each model that uses a distinct pre-shading technique you will see that all the panel lines will have the same exact contrast and thickness and the center of each panel will be lightened uniformly across the entire model, suggesting that each surface of the aircraft has weathered exactly the same way.
A closer look at several real aircraft and you'll quickly see why pre-shading makes no sense...



However, let us not forget that modeling is an art, and as such, this topic is fairly objective. What one person sees as acceptable may not be so to another. This post is for those who want to get a closer idea of the realities of aircraft weathering, and perhaps push some one to strive for a bit more accuracy in their finish.
Of course, these issues do not end with pre-shading. Doogs' did a well enough job covering that topic so instead I thought about all the other areas of aircraft modeling that I feel are neglected or being executed in a fashion that doesn't sync with the real life examples. So, if you can stomach a little criticism, feel free to read about what else you might be doing wrong.

Uniformity

I touched on this above so I'll expand on it here. The issue I see with many models is that the builder has relied way too much on uniformity and has given no thought at all to breaking up the lines and patterns he has instinctively built into his aircraft. This is one of the biggest issues with pre and post shading. It creates way too much invariability, so if pre-shading is the only airbrushing technique you prescribe to...you're doing it wrong.
An aircraft weathers at random and does not create perfect little squares and rectangles with shading around the panels that are all the same thickness and color and faded to the same degree. There are streaks from leaking hydraulic lines, and fuel spills. Smudges and stains from various other maintenance jobs all mix together to create an aircraft that is weathered as uniquely as your finger prints. 


Notice the randomness of the weathering on the Viper above. Certainly not reminiscent of pre-shading. Even the most extreme examples are not uniform...


Uniformity can be further broken up by focusing on individual panels (or a lot of panels in some cases) and changing their color. Rather than lightening the center of each panel, a method popularly known as post-shading, pick out only a few panels across the aircraft.

For instance, look at the right wing on the aircraft below...


The upper left wing and dorsal area of the fuselage on the F-16 below are a noticeably different shade of gray than the surrounding surfaces...(not to mention the light gray trailing edge on the right wing). It also has a weapons load configuration that is not uniform.


Below you will see the canopy frame on the Viper is a lighter color, completely altering the curved gray line of the gray of the typical F-16 paint scheme...


Note the air brake and the right intake are lighter gray on this Strike Eagle...


It is plain to see the light gray panels on the fuselage of this A-10...


I am not saying pre-shading should be abandoned all together. Different strokes for different folks, as they say. Besides, if one keeps the idea that uniformity has no place on a weathered aircraft, a subtle pre-shade can still be effective. Take a look at this Oscar, for instance. Though the modeler has used a pre-shade, its a step in the right direction. He has broken up the over all finish with random panel shading and panel lines that are not over done...



(You can see more of the Oscar, HERE)

Uniformity is not constricted to pre/post shading either. For some reason, modelers seem to feel like whatever happens on one side of the aircraft must also happen equally to the other. No. Don't think that way. On the real aircraft bits and pieces move around, get swapped out for new ones, get repainted, so on and so forth that rarely do any two items look identical. Take these F-15 exhausts for instance...


Chipping

There are two kinds of people in this world: those that think modern aircraft do not chip, and those that are wrong. Chipping paint is generally a technique saved for armor modelers or WWII aircraft of the PTO variety but I am here to tell you that if you do not have any chipped paint on your jet aircraft, you're doing it wrong...






To extreme for you? Well, you can add a lesser degree of chipping to the aircraft's accessories, like the pylons seen here...


The next time a judge tells you that you have too much chipping on your jet, give him the finger for me...

Tires

Wheels are neglected by and large by modelers. While its nice that the kit makers and the aftermarket industry is creating detailed tires with crisp molds and finely sculpted treads, we modelers are over looking an important opportunity. How often do we build a jet as though its been through the rigors of combat and non-stop sorties but never pause to think that maybe the tires have gotten worn over time. 
No. I guess we just assume that the crew chiefs are quite dedicated and have nothing better to do than accomplish a double main tire change after every go. In reality most combat aircraft will fly with a few chunks missing from their rubber, exposing a couple of cords. So if you are one to just sand them to give the wheel a flat appearance and call it good, you're doing it wrong... 
While cutting into the precious resin wheels might be painful, it is just another way to kill some uniformity.

An extreme example...


And a tire with considerably less wear...


Bombs

You didn't think I'd go a whole post and not talk about munitions did you? Ordnance is another aspect of modeling so often forgotten about. Typically, the weapons are painted in olive drab and slapped onto the aircraft without a second thought. You're doing it wrong.
Bombs and missiles can be treated like little models themselves and be shown the same attention. After all, if you're building a combat aircraft don't you think you should highlight the tools it is bringing to the fight?
Ordnance, especially bombs, can be left outside in the elements for extended periods of time, especially if they are already loaded onto an aircraft. Munitions attached to a jet in a combat zone are not likely going to be removed unless the pilot releases them on a few bad guys below. So they sit, exposed to the sun, rain, sleet and snow, getting delightfully dirty in the process. Just look at the difference in color between the bombs below...


Again, not a hair of uniformity at all.



In the end it all comes down to preference. What looks good to you may not look good to others and the extent of detail you are happy with may fall short of other people's expectations. We are not all rivet counters. But we are all modelers. Each of us possessing a different level of interest, skill, passion, and creativity which is what makes the community more diverse. Despite this, we all strive for a certain level of detail and accuracy that fit our own measure of quality. In the case of this post, I am merely providing you with the tools you may need to reach a new level of realism that meets your caliber of excellence. 

Go build.

Comments

  1. Thank you for the great article. For someone who constantly frets about getting something to look perfect, being shown that there are varying degrees of paint on an actual craft and bombs are not pristine. So it is okay to weather everything, as long as you like it. (Ulvdemon)

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