Friday, June 24, 2011

More Horse Progress

There's slow progress for the horse. Just haven't had much of an incentive to get it going farther than it currently is.

In order to determine how the neck sections will be concealed, I started developing the frame for the horse's body and skin. Since it's going to be hollow, I've experimented with a more lightweight means of making the skin than the old method of piling on 110lb cardstock tubes until the shape gets fleshed out. The method involves making use of the tube framework that holds the body together, and adding depth gauges all along key points, then connecting them together with two thickness strips of 110lb cardstock. The resulting model looks like a wireframe outline of the desired shape, and presumably uses less material. It's a lot more fragile, but that's where the depth gauges come in to support the skin. The MtG skin should be thick enough to support itself once curved and glued.

Building the body requires the legs to be somewhat fleshed out as well. Tubes have been glued over the screws to provide access points. They're all outside the horse this time instead of the cosmetically better looking underside/inner side of the horse. I'll probably be tightening them often, so it's probably for the best. The screw assemblies compose of a countersink bolt, spring washer, two washers and a nut. The nut is held in place inside the center of the tubes by strips 2.5 Magic cards thick, 2mm wide, forming a hexagonal housing to prevent nut rotation. These will be later plugged with a 110lb cardstock core so the nut doesn't travel axially, fully restricting the degrees of freedom. If this wasn't added, tightening the bolts would be tedious and difficult since there's nothing to hold the nuts in place.

Since I've opted for the neck to bend downwards, I need to conceal the gaps that result. Rather than make a giant rotating joint that resembles a LEGO horse, I chose to go a more difficult route.

With the neck region and movement limits defined, I could figure out how much gap I needed to cover. At full upright, the neck has a large exposed gap at the bottom and a small gap at the top. The system has a static upper region, and a dynamic lower region.

At mid position, the edge of the upper triangular shaped cover piece lines up with the edge of the neck opening. The lower cover sinks inwards into the chest cavity, assisted by a set of hinges.

The neck further bends downwards 22 degrees to allow the head to reach the ground to do grazing poses. This does cause another gap in the upper region of the neck, which needs to be addressed. The lower cover dips downwards and inwards to provide clearance for the neck assembly. The purpose for this mechanism is to allow for a curved and molded shape to fill in the gap. Due to the nature of how I designed the neck base to bend in two sections with hard stops to prevent overtravel, a static section was not feasible. I needed something that would move to allow for clearance of the second neck joint that connected the accordion structure to the body.

The neck assembly, removed for detail, shows the general layout. A notched portion inside the lower cover prevents the cover from falling out the gap when the neck is fully upright. It acts as a hard stop around one of the structural tubes inside the body.

Here, the two hinges required to create the movement needed for the lower cover are visible. The hinge base also serves to strengthen the neck base against buckling. Also visible are the wire assemblies that hold the neck sections in place and limit rotation. The yellow wire section has less stiffness than the middle and lower portions. The assembly was too stiff with all three supports being made of stranded wire.

 So right now, the horse has a semi-finalized neck and the rough outline for the body. Remaining tasks involve stiffening the rear legs and fleshing out the rest of the body. I'll also need to adjust the center of mass, as it's currently front heavy due to all the neck structures.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

J.Norad Reviews: 1:6 scale Dragon Browning M2 Model Kit

Went to Brickworld 2011. Ended up browsing the local shops after lunch and I picked up this: a 2008 Dragon 1:6 scale Browning M2 Heavy Machine Gun model kit. I wanted to add this to the collection for some time (an M2, not particularly this one), and here was my chance. Not quite the best decision I've made regarding model kits, unfortunately.

I've seen one review of this model kit floating around. Not too surprising since not a lot of people review model kits, especially model kits of infantry weaponry. However, I've gone through the joy horror of building this kit to tell you how it really is.

Phase 1: Misinformation
I picked this up at the cost of under $19 at a hobby shop, all ready to get me a heavy machine gun. I opened up the box and beheld the presence of a foul and unholy mass of injection molded plastic and metal. Yes, there's metal. Is it awesome metal, as in "metal barrel and other assorted parts to enhance the flavor and detail"? Hell no! It's the "purely decorative but essential to make the kit annoying to build properly" type. We'll get to that in a bit. First, let's look at the biggest problems with this kit: the instructions.

 Here's the first sheet. Top gives you an overview of the model, same as the box cover. Middle covers the runners and what each part is, in case you cut them all loose and have no idea what they're called afterwards. The bottom covers a painting color guide, which luckily is composed of 5 colors, and only two are essential to the gun. Take note at the grey section on runner set A. That designates parts that are not used in this model. My first question is, "why do you even include parts on the runners if this model doesn't use them?" Second, "what set does this get packaged with that uses these parts?" And lastly, "why the hell are these spare parts not duplicates of essential but potentially fragile parts?"

The answer to these questions is "they're actually used in this model kit, but the instructions writer decided to troll the kit builders who actually bother to look at the sheet". Because, who reads the instructions anyways? Certainly not the 4-13 year olds who buy this model, since this package certainly says that it's for 14 years+ only. We all know that getting a 14 year old to read a book is not particularly easy, so they added a visual instruction sheet with numbers on it. That's what the back side is for!
Phase 2: Deception
Side 2 of the instructions is where Dragon likes to whip out the middle finger and also take the time to poke you in the eye. I don't know if they fixed this for subsequent releases, but there's numerous errors with the instructions. I've handily corrected them in red. Notably, I've labeled where the "unused" pieces actually go on the model. Part A19 corresponds to the swivel tripod lever handle. Optional parts A29 and A30 turn out to form the "integral" leg clamp assembly for the right side of the tripod. Of course, you could have figured that out without the drawing by looking at the spot at the end of the leg and then at the runners. The handle isn't integral, but it's actually depicted on the cover photo, if you notice.

Per the numbers, you're supposed to be issued three B17s which correspond to the gun's firing mechanism assembly, and are supposed to glue them into the tripod legs. Great! I always wanted my tripod to shoot holes into the ground so I can have an easier time digging them into the ground. In a pinch, they will also serve to provide a last point of defense for the tripod carrying guy, so he can at least get some shots off. Dragon thought of everything.

Lastly, the instructions conflict with the product photo. The tripod feet per the instructions have the feet one way, and the photo has them the other. Which is correct? The product photo, apparently. I checked with what the actual M3 bipod looks like and it matches the photo, with the spades pointing all the same direction.

Phase 3: Lack of Information
At this point, you can argue that I'm being nit picky and deliberately bashing a decently designed kit for the sake of your entertainment. Now here's the point where Dragon takes their other hand and gives you the finger, and also jams it into your other eye. The METAL PARTS. Nowhere on the kit does it say that you need to have needle nose pliers for this kit. YES you need them. Why? Because the metal parts can't be assembled onto the other parts otherwise. And they're tedious.

The metal parts are all confined to the ammo box lid and a carrying handle on the barrel. The barrel requires you to clamp the loops tight otherwise they'll come off. Not too bad. Next part are the lid handle hinges. You'll need to pry them apart to fit them around the lid loops, then close them while the strap is in the hinges. I have decent dexterity and I had issues keeping the parts aligned while I clamped the loops closed.

 Last is this little gem here.
 The ammo box locking plate. It's a metal plate with a metal C that goes through it. They come separated and must be assembled together as shown above. Keep in mind the C hinge piece comes bent as a C and not straight. In order to get the part through the holes in the plate, you must unbend the part, thread it through and re-bend it. It's like unbending a paperclip and trying to bend it back so it looks the same. Doesn't happen, unless you're good. Mine still came out semi crooked.

My last point of the model kit is the plastic itself. You clearly need to paint this. The tolerances are tight without painting. A bit of sanding is needed to get the tripod legs to even slide. It felt like the model I got was late down the line where the mold had gotten sloppy. The ammo insert in the ammo box is wider than the ammo box inside, and requires trimming. The halves of some parts (legs, receiver, part of the barrel shroud) didn't meet up flat. As a side effect, the barrel came out crooked when assembled as is. Noticeably crooked.


Griping aside, the model's not bad. You just need to know what you're getting into. There's a lot of moving parts. Some of the movement can be nullified by bad handiwork or too thick of a paint job, however. I honestly don't think it's worth buying the kit if your skill isn't great and all you want is an M2. However, I don't think they sell the M2 pre assembled, at least not anywhere convenient. There's a limited number of M2's from other manufacturers, and none are common. So if you're in the market for one, you're forced to go the Dragon route if you're unable to find pre-built ones. If you're absolutely rubbish at painting like I am, you'll hate this option.

 On a last note: the ammo links are too rigid. You can sort of bend them. They'll snap and disintegrate though. You'll be limiting it to just dioramas and not much else.