“Maybe I’m alone in this, but these days with less time to build, failing eyesight and energy levels that would give a sloth, kittens, the appearance of a new kit rammed full of hundreds of parts fills me with if not horror, then certainly trepidation”
Look, kits are becoming more complex aren’t they? That’s a fact, right? We no longer expect to buy a small box of plastic parts that we can assemble on the kitchen table on a rainy Saturday afternoon whilst listening to Sports Report; now we expect that every nut, bolt fastener and rivet is present and correct and we expect them all to be separate parts. It’s all about the detail!
As a child I remember flicking through the Airfix catalogues and being drawn to the kits that announced that they featured over 100 parts. Being used to kits that contained 25, I loved the idea that some were real value for money by offering more little pieces to glue together. The fact that the resulting model was no larger, no more detailed and often of a subject that I didn’t really give two hoots about was irrelevant: I wanted those kits and I — almost — didn’t care how I got hold of them.
As the years passed by, kits that featured 100 parts became the norm, detail was increasing and as a result of that, so were the number of parts that kits included. Moulding constraints were being removed bit by bit and with the introduction of CAD and the need to no longer actually produce patterns for the parts being incorporated into the latest releases, designers could offer hitherto unseen levels of detail and finesse. With detail came parts; with finesse came complexity; with complexity came a shift from simple, quick-build kits, to the über complex packages that we see today.
Though still on offer from the world’s kit manufacturers, simpler kits are less prevalent than they once were and the idea that where it was once okay to offer larger, detailed parts, now, broken-down sections are the norm. I’m okay with the idea that we have more detail to enjoy, where it annoys me is where unnecessary detail is offered, not for the sake of the model or the modeller, but as some kind of shorthand for “aren’t we clever” by the designers. Kits in many cases today are less a relaxing pastime, more a battle of wills more akin to an Iron Man Challenge.
Armour kits are often the worst offenders. It’s now the norm to see kits with 1000+ parts. Full interiors are the norm, tiny sections of invisible detail broken down into sub-assembles that take an evening to put together. A few hours of assembly results in little more than a pile of unrecognisable bits, than a half-built model. Projects that used to take weeks to complete, now take months to assemble. Modellers are now building two models a year, when in the past they may have built ten.
Looking at these incredibly complex kits, I can’t help but wonder how Shep Paine and Francois Verlinden would have coped today. During the 1970s, part of their fascination was that they were turning out dioramas on an almost weekly basis, new releases being hoovered up as they hit the model shop shelves. Many of the kits that they showcased were simple affairs that could be built in a few days, so painting was only several hours away. How would they have faired today when faced with the latest kits from some of the world’s manufacturers? Of course back then they also had less choice, so that would have clouded the issue, but how many Trumpeter Smerch kits do you think they could have constructed in a year – one, two…Three? And no, I’m not picking on Trumpeter!!!
Maybe I’m alone in this, but these days with less time to build, failing eyesight and energy levels that would give a sloth, kittens, the appearance of a new kit rammed full of hundreds of parts fills me with if not horror, then certainly trepidation. I tend to assess a kit on how long I think it will take to construct and then map that into a day. Last year for instance, I had a go at a T-80 that contained the thick need of 1000 parts. It took over one whole week of work to assemble – that’s over 50 hours and during that time, I applied not one drop of paint. Now, think about that and how a hobby modeller would deal with a project like that; I know some guys who have around 5 hours per week to build models – that would be ten weeks to build it and then perhaps the same length of time to paint the results. I’m sorry, but I would have to love a subject to spend twenty weeks on an out-of-the-box build! In fact, I just wouldn’t even consider it!
Look, I get it, I really do – modellers love the detail and they love the complexity of the completed models. But here’s the thing, in the main, they don’t love the construction. I have spent countless hours talking to modellers who tell me that assembly is just a distraction from the good bit: painting. Whole websites, magazines, Blogs and discussion groups have sprung up on the art of painting, weathering and presentation of the results. Point me in the direction of just one that deals with the pleasure that we get from gluing together 1000 tiny plastic parts, 750 of which will never be seen again! Not many, are there?
In this day and age of CAD rendered hyper kits that can be moulded with scale thickness parts, I see no reason why model kits cannot be simplified. I see a huge number of different kits covering all genres and there are numerous times when I look at a sub-assembly and think “why is that five pieces, when one would have sufficed?”. Roadwheels in tank kits with separate tyres and hubs: why? Sprockets with individual bolts: why? Engine bay interiors in aircraft kits that have no way of showing them off: why? Strip them back. If a kit that is planned to be 1000 parts can be 500, make it 500 – after all, that’s what Tamiya has been doing for decades! Better still: make it 300!
At 8am on a Thursday morning as I write this, I can already sense the response to my thoughts. Yeah, but you just don’t understand that we need the detail, we want to build the most detailed models we can and we just love those kits that allow us to do that! Yeah… But at what cost? With every passing day, the kits that are offered are more complex, more difficult to build and more expensive. Those impressive packages that you see on model shop shelves, the ones with 65 runners, they have to be paid for and as result, the more expensive the kits are, the less modellers buy them and the small market that exists to prop up these sales, shrinks. Think about that; you have £150 to spend on kits, what will help sustain the market most? You buying one kit from one manufacturer, or three from three different ones, three kits that are simpler in approach and cheaper as a result? Yeah, but that’s not basic economics, bud! Sell for the most you can get for them, it’s all about the bottom line! Yeah, sure it is, but with average kit prices for these high-end products seemingly running towards £100, how sustainable is that business model?
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what I think, modellers will always chose what they want to build. It’s also not like there aren’t options as well, Tamiya for instance still sticking religiously to their founding premise of offering high-quality kits that are simple to build with low(ish) parts count. I just wonder (and worry, if I’m honest) that many of the new, more complex items are a step too far and that modellers are more likely to be put off by the complexity that they see in each one, than they are excited by the prospect of assembly one and displaying the results and I wonder how in the long term, the increasingly complex, time consuming nature of these new plastic model kits will be of interest to modellers with less time, less money and less determination to complete them.
See you next time.