Millennium Falcon

A brief finishing journal for Bandai’s little “fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.”

Writing this intro last, the following feels like a bizarre amount of verbiage for 4” of model. If you actually read it all, a solid high-five if, and when, we meet.

While I’ve done my best to recount as much detail as possible, it was pulled off the shelf and done up as quickly as I could manage. As such, I didn’t spend much time or energy effectively recording the process. A couple other notes that I’ll mention before diving in, rather than repeating throughout the process.

First, the studio models are dull. Those with stones in your pockets, you can throw them now. Don’t get me wrong, I know the reasons, but as static models they’re bland af. My plan going in was to create a rendition of the studio model through the lens of contemporary weathering — an interpretation recognizable as the Millennium Falcon, though not tied to any specific point in the movie arc. This approach granted the freedom to be imaginative, embrace happy accidents, produce a more realistic-looking model, without fretting about absolute fidelity.

Second, working with oils. This project used oils exclusively for washes, filters and weathering. When I work with oils, I am constantly varying my colour mix, and never using a ‘bulk mixture’ to be applied extensively across the model. I leach my oils on cardboard, then transfer small amounts to a white non-permeable mixing surface where I mix with any thinners or drying agents (usually VMS Oil Expert or Abteilung 502 Matte Effect Thinner). This mix-on-the-go approach provides more variation in my weathering effects, and leads to a more organic finish, imho. Finally, oils were allowed to dry for 12-24 hours between steps, unless noted otherwise. This is not only a practical reason, but also gave me that window of time to review the previous step, and adjust if necessaryb before moving on.

Third, these steps are recounted in the order I applied them. It was easier to remember, and avoids copy conflicting with the photos. However, the process as given involved no shortage of “Why the eff didn’t I do that 3 steps ago!” moments. Read through fully and adjust to taste.

Okay, punch it, Chewie!

 

A long time ago, on a coffee table, er, 6 feet away… this build started over two years ago, not that long after picking up the the hobby again and before I had a proper bench set up. Eventually, it was fully-painted on one side and later, half-painted on the other (not that those two sides exactly matched, mind you). After an incentive to get it finished arose, a quick wash to remove shelf dust revealed an ugly truth. I must have thought about using hairspray chipping at one point, enough to add the hairspray at least, a fact clearly lost to time until the kit hit the water, and the paint pulled a vanishing act. Back to square one, strip what was left, and reprime. All that to say, when I stripped the kit, there were some resilient areas of primer that would not come off for love nor money. These areas actually leant a really neat distressed texture that is visible on some of the final panels.

Priming — Starting fresh, I primed with Mr. Finishing Surfacer 1500 thinned with Mr. Levelling Thinner (MLT). The Falcon uses a primarily warm colour palette, so dark grey with a touch of red brown was used as my base tone.

Underpainting I — A technique that riffs off an old masters technique, underpainting, or the way cooler name, dead-painting, involves building up a near-complete tonal range, then adding a thin glaze of colour to impart the desired hue. While it can be very time-consuming, I like this approach for the depth and patina it imparts to a finished surface. For the heavily-distressed finish I wanted for my Falcon, this was the (only) way. 

Starting with the Ocean Grey, each panel was airbrushed freehand tight to the surface to create a mottled effect, working to ‘stay in the lines’ as best I could. Once the full ship was done, groupings of panels were give a quick broader application to create a more unified effect over subsections of the ship. 

Soda chipping — Added once the first layer of underpainting was down, the model was misted with water and baking soda sprinkled over the surface in the same manner as the salt-masking technique. Once dry, the final distribution was adjusted, removing heavier concentrations with a moist brush, adding a more where needed. If the application looks heavy in the photos, some it will flake off under air pressure, while I’ll remove other spots as the paint process moves along, with the very last few applications being removed after the final colour coats.

Underpainting II — Underpainting then continued with a number of greys — Sky Grey, Medium Sea Grey, Medium Grey, JASDF Radome Grey (a cool grey for some contrast), and FS36622, all heavily thinned with MLT. The specific hues of grey applied were guided by reference photos, and their application mapped to the lighter areas imparted by previous greys. Once complete, each panel had ultimately received a dark, medium, and light grey.

A few other random recollections from this phase…

The lighter greys were applied in a slightly higher concentration on the high side of panel joins. While the intent here is that grime would seep down from panel joints and stain the upper portions of the panels below, it also has the benefit of creating slight contrast between panels, eliciting a subtle patchwork effect.

During the underpainting, I also used thin layers of polyethylene packing foam as a mottle mask, spraying the greys through them in random areas. This harder-edged mottling adds a nice textural contrast to the softer airbrush work.

Also, at some point tried removing some of the paint with either isopropyl alcohol or MLT, before re-applying some of the underpainting. I can’t remember why, the pictures just tell me I did. This created some really wild distressing, similar to the initial stripping, that really contributed to the final finish. Do with that info what you will.

I know this section is a bit of a mess in the telling, and lacks enough photos to tell the story, but when all was said and done, the final underpainted effect looked like a slightly darker, black and white version of the Falcon.

Colour blocking — Using reference of the studio model as a guide, the panels were each given their final colour coats using a variety of colour mixes to approximate what I saw in photos, while the ’whites’ were Gunze Mr. Color FS36622 and Tamiya White with a hint of Deck Tan (not Buff as shown in the photo, I grabbed the wrong pot before heading to the booth).

Working lightest to darkest, colour coats were sprayed freehand, panel-by-panel, tight to the surface, and highly-thinned for complete control of colour build-up. After all the ‘light’ colours went down, I unified with a thin application of the white/deck tan mix. I then applied the darker greys, red, and a couple cool greys for contrast to the warm-toned colour scheme. Only when I sprayed these darker/saturated tones did I resort to using any hard-edged masks to avoid having to correct any overspray.

Varnish — Tamiya semi-gloss acrylic, highly thinned with MLT was sprayed over the entire model as a base for starting oil work.

Pinwash — In my process, the pinwash is a subtle false shadow effect. As such, it’s still primarily part of the colour application and uses darker, desaturated hues of the base colour. In this case, mixes of Light Mud, Dark Mud, and Raw Umber. This was applied over most of the model, allowing the mix to flow into detail from the tip of a fine brush, cleaning any tide marks or overflow with a brush and odourless thinner.

Once the first layer is finished, I immediately flip into weathering mode, and come back to those panel joins and details that would conduct fluids and grime, hitting them again with darker oils (Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, Payne’s Grey) to mimic effects of fluids that have seeped, stained, and trapped dust and grime. There’s no need to wait for the first pinwash to dry, any mixing here worked in my favour.

Streaking I — At this point I added the heaviest streaks, those that have probably been present for years. In my weathering hierarchy these legacy weathering effects are as much a part of the surface as the paint and need to come before any large-scale adjustments such as filters.

In contrast to the studio model, I drew my streaks down from the various small protrusions covering the surface, whereas the studio model draws streaks down from panel lines. Not sure why I went this route, it just kind of happened that way. Important to remember, streaks on the dorsal side taper with gravity to the perimeter, while streaks on the ventral side follow gravity to the centre. Using the same grime palette of oils from the weathering pinwash, streaks were added with a fine brush, and feathered out with a second brush, barely moistened with odourless thinner.

Highlights and Touch-ups — Using acrylics, I corrected overspray on a few panels, highlighted prominent surface detail and edges, and picked out the multitude of little square nubs with different tones of warm grey/whites.

Filters and Streaking II — Working in sections, filters made up of Light Mud, Dark Mud, and Dust were applied panel-by-panel. After giving the colour around 20 minutes to penetrate the surface, a fine brush moistened with odourless thinner was used to impart additional streaking effects to each panel by removing small amounts of the filter. This was followed by additional applications of the filter oil colours directly to some panels and streaked top to bottom.

Mapping — With the slightly visible underpainting as my guide, I bumped up the contrast of the distressed paint by mapping dark and light oils onto each panel, or into areas where I wanted to convey heavy fading or staining. Here, minute dots of oil, like flattened point of a pin minute, were applied to the surface, then carefully blended out out with a fine brush. As in the filter stage, it helps to divide the ship into sections and work to complete each section before moving on the next — similar, though not as involved, as the process Michael Rinaldi advocates. 

Speckling — A light pass of grimy oils were speckled over much of the ship using an old, small brush and airbrush needle, with application heaviest on the underside. These speckles were were really fine, any large spots removed, and I’m not convinced most didn’t just disappear eventually! Those that did remain help contribute a subtle chipping effect.

Varnish — Gunze GX114 Flat, heavily thinned with MLT was sprayed over the entire model.

Maintenance Pits and Sidewalls — These were sprayed dark grey/black, then structures and details were picked out by both airbrush and paintbrush with colours lightening in tone as they came closer to the surface. Once done and dry, these were given the same oil effects mentioned in previous stages. At this time I continued picking out small details across the ship in different colours, simply to add more variation and interest.

Engine ‘Outlet’ — Heed my words, this should really be painted and masked during the build phase! After a spray of dark grey/black, white acrylic was loaded into a brush, touched into the recess and allowed to fill each cavity until relatively opaque (it took about three applications) and any overflow touched up with a grey black acrylic. Once dry, Prussian Blue oil was thinned and flowed into each hole in a similar manner, and any excess cleaned up. While the finished result is okay, it’s definitely something to push in a different direction on a future build.

Cockpit and Cannon Ports — For the cockpit windows, I knew a black would be too stark a colour for the overall colour palette used. Eventually, I came across extra decals from my 109 build that had dark cool grey balkenkreuz — the perfect colour! With calipers, ruler, and sharp hobby blade, I was able to measure and slice the decal into enough pieces to cover the cockpit windows, while the front arch was cut with my Dspiae circle cutter, trimmed to the extent of the arc, applied, and once dry, the framing picked out with light grey.

At my next session, I then  masked over the cockpit by mistake and pulled half the decals up. Bollocks! I colour-matched a dark grey acrylic to the decals and repainted the affected windows along with the cannon port glass. 

Blaster Marks — Burnt Umber and Payne’s grey mix to make a great charcoal black, ideal for the blaster scoring across the ship. The location of each was lightly drawn on with a dark grey Prismacolor pencil, then small dots of oils applied and brushed out to match the effects seen on the studio model. On a future build, I would also make a pint of adding the surface damage associated with a number of these hits.

Done, and mostly done — At this point I made the soft call that the build was finished, or at least ready for a bit of reflection. I shared it around, gathered some feedback, checked references, stared at it (a lot!), and finally took it back to the bench.

Varnish — Before adding the final corrections, another thin application of Gunze GX114 Flat, heavily thinned with MLT, was sprayed over the entire model.

Final Details — Based on feedback, and what I picked up on reviewing photos again in detail, there were a number of small corrections and additions I needed to make to properly wrap this up:

Exhaust ports: The grilles received a heavy wash of Rubber Black acrylic, followed by a glaze of Raw Siena or Payne’s Grey oils to match the discolouration seen on the studio model. The characteristic exhaust stains were added with highly-thinned Rubber Black (I went a little asymmetrical here, though probably shouldn’t have as it looks like a mistake — realistic doesn’t always ‘look’ right in scale) along with the staining visible from the smaller ports just aft of the main grilles.

Rust staining: There studio model displays a few areas of  distinct rust-coloured staining that were added to match — primarily around the centre section on the ventral side and a few streaks on the front side of main body. I also added some rust tones in the maintenance pits to add some pop and patina to those areas.

Yellow panels: There are a couple small ‘yellow’ panels on the top side of the studio model. I could only find one photo where they truly looked yellow, though as photos go, it looks heavily adjusted. Instead, I simply  glazed a bit of yellow over the beige I had already and found that punched them up enough.

Markings: a close inspection of photos shows a plethora of small markings spread all over the ship. These range from simple hash-marks in black and red to markings that are in many cases corporate logos from the real world, ie. the famous logo mash-up over the cockpit glass or the Champion Spark Plug logo on one of the panels. Using my finest brush these were reproduced as best as I could manage. Desaturated acrylic colours were used to ensure they blended in with the now fully-weathered finish. Additional details continued to be tweaked with acrylics.

Staining: There is some diffuse staining around the tips of the mandibles and the base of the circular centre section on the studio model. This was simply misted on with a highly-thinned Rubber Black.

Colour correction — a few panels had an additional filter applied to unify them better with adjacent panels.

Cockpit

Anemic cockpit detail — the major shortcoming of the Airfix kit — almost immediately derailed the build plan. Details are shallow, poorly-defined, and the sidewall follows the exterior profile, disappearing into the wing root and leaving sizeable gaps at the bottom. Considering the cockpit floor is a continuous surface formed by the upper wing surface, this is a significant error. The instrument panel is supplied as a decal, the artwork of which is anything but delicate.

As the canopy was requested to be open, I was compelled to add enough detail that a look inside would be rewarded. Stretched sprue and Evergreen styrene strip were used to flesh out enough detail to indicate some major structures and details of the 1:1 aircraft, while other existing details were reshaped  or replaced to provide better definition for washes and painting — as part of the soft detail, most inside corners of the moulded details were radiused, and as a result would not provide any corners for washes to collect in.