Friday, 17 May 2013

Peace Through Superior Firepower (And Gorilla Glue)!

When I was contacted a few months back by Jon Hughes, one half of the excellent Strange Things Afoot at the Circle K film podcast, asking me if I'd ever consider painting anything bigger than a 28mm miniature, I was intrigued to say the least.

I think my initial reaction was something along the lines of 'Um... How big?' to which the reply came:

"Would you take on something, say perhaps, the size and shape of a USCM M41-A Pulse Rifle, as seen in the film Aliens?"

I have to say, first I nearly spat my coffee out!

I then had a sobering moment when I realised that I'd never attempted anything like this before and that it was far beyond my skills and knowledge.

Then I thought 'Screw that, it's an Aliens Pulse Rifle!' and took the job.

It became obvious from the very start that this was really a modelling job, not so much an actual painting job.  With painting, life is much easier when you start to get to full-scale kits.

With a 28mm or 32mm miniature (for example), because the folds and creases and recesses on the miniature are so small, any ambient light in the room will struggle to naturally react in a way which mimics the way it would react with a life-size version of, say, an elf archer or a Space Marine.  Because of this, we need to give the light a helping hand by adding shading and highlighting to the model - and it's this which is the hardest part of painting: using highlights and shades to give the illusion that the miniature is actually real.  With a kit which is full-scale on the other hand, you don't have any of those concerns - mainly you just need to be neat and accurate, and the laws of physics governing light quanta will sort the rest out!

After excitedly ripping open the box, I couldn't resist doing
a dry assemble, just to get a feel for the size of it.  To the
bottom-right, you can see the ELECTRONIC LED
(Never thought I'd manage to crowbar that phrase into a painting blog...)

When the kit arrived, I was completely blown away.  Having looked at a few different resin Pulse Rifle kits, I was expecting the model to be a simple resin shell which would be, once assembled, hollow in the middle.  Needless to say I was extremely excited to discover that the rifle was solid resin throughout, meaning that it was tremendously heavy, adding to the realism of the finished piece.

All of the resin parts, laid out and washed in warm, soapy
water to remove residual grease left over from the
moulding process.
Of course, being heavy is lovely - but it does have its down-sides.  The final assembly of the Pulse Rifle consisted of three large sub-sections, each one exerting a tremendous pull on its joints.  Because of this, there is no way that liquid super-glue would be strong enough to hold the rifle together.

I'm not going to give a blow-by-blow account of the assembly, but if you're interested, the manufacturer's website ( has a set of video tutorials explaining in great detail how the rifle is best assembled.  I followed these instructions as closely as possible, although my work was a hell of a lot slower!!

The video files can be found here:

There are however a few things I'd like to share.

Firstly, one of the factors which made this model exciting wasn't just the scale of it, but the fact that it incorporated an LED ammo-counter, meaning that part of the assembly included the installation of working electronic components.  This was quite daunting because generally, if a mistake is made when building or painting a model, you can pretty much fix anything with time and hard work.  However, during the entire assembly, I was painfully aware that because the internal workings of the LED were locked away inside the excruciatingly well-pinned and glued model, if an problems with the wiring or connections cropped up, I would probably be unable to repair them - completely ruining the model for my client!  Luckily, the actual installation itself was very simple.  All of the components came connected and soldered, so all that was needed was to glue the LED screen and the ON / OFF switch into place.

The working LED on this model is a
brilliant touch!
As I said before, with parts this heavy, there was no way that my usual liquid super-glue would hold this beast of a model together!  It was in Spatcave's excellent video tutorials that I was introduced to what would be, for the duration of the assembly stage, my new best friend:


If you've never heard of it, I'll say this:  This stuff is awesome - if at times a little like a wild, untameable beast.  What's really useful about this particular adhesive is that not only does it bond with the strength of the titular gorilla, it also expands as it dries, meaning that it also acts as something of a filler between the bonded parts which can be sanded down once dry, thus reducing the need for filling with modelling putty (though there is still a some filling needed if you want the joints to be perfectly smooth...).

Of course, you need to be careful exactly how much glue you apply as too much will add a great deal of clean-up time when you have to cut and sand off masses of excess adhesive.

The glue itself reacts with water, so I needed to wet both sides of the parts to be glued before spreading a thin layer of the adhesive across them, though not quite to the edges.  Before this stage, I had already drilled several holes into each part and screwed large screws in to act as pins (slightly larger than the paper-clip pins which I usually use for miniatures!).  As you can see, the parts needed to then be heavily clamped to ensure the strongest grip once dry.

Once all of the parts had been drilled, pinned, glued, filled, sanded, drilled again (in the case of the vent holes) and then fully assembled, it was time to get down to the actual painting, which was extremely simple.

The first thing I needed to do was spray the rifle matte black.  I found it very helpful that the resin was black and not white because not only will it be less noticeable if at some future time the gun gets scratched or chipped, but also because if the spray missed any of the deeper recesses, it would be impossible to tell (of course, I'm certain that it didn't miss any of the recesses...).

The next job was to mask off all of the black areas, and of course the LED readout window, before spraying the green areas.  For this, Jon and I agreed on a camouflage green spray, designed mainly for hides used by bird-watchers and wildlife photographers, produced - believe it or not - by Halfords.

This took slightly more coats to completely cover the relevant areas as it was much thinner than the Chaos Black undercoat spray.  In the end though, it gave a good, smooth covering, despite using up almost the entire can.

The colouring in this photograph (below) is sightly deceptive as the finish was actually much more green than this.

Once I was confident that I had achieved complete coverage with the green spray, I left the model for twenty-four hours to dry, just to be on the safe side.

Once dry, I removed the masking tape and touched up any areas of black that had not quite escaped the spray, as well as the magazine clips and the screws.  I found this to be a lot more painstaking than you would imagine, knowing that it would be quite awkward to repair the green areas if I accidentally slipped with my brush.  Saying that, the inevitable slips which I did make were tidied up by spraying the green paint directly into the lid of the paint can so that it pooled at the bottom, and then brushing it on by hand.

The metallic areas in the image above were painted next.  They were a simple case of a Boltgun Metal basecoat, followed by consecutive washes of Badab Black and Devlan Mud before highlighting with Chainmail.

As you can see from this image, by now it's really starting to
take shape.
The thing which made this model stand out from a standard-issue Pulse Rifle was the personalisation Jon requested.  There were two small additions to be made.  Firstly, simply the words 'Peace Through Superior Firepower!' to be added to the back of the rifle, and secondly (and most awesome-ly), Hudson's* 'Death or Glory' motif as seen on his body armour, to be painted on the front.

[*If you don't know who Hudson is, I imagine you won't have made it this far into the blog...]

Though the text was a relatively simple thing to do, I wanted the Death or Glory motif to be as accurate as possible.  With that in mind, as opposed to attempting to make an exact freehand copy, I decided to try out printing it as a custom-made decal.  It was simply a case of Googling the design and transferring it to Adobe Illustrator in order to create a decal sheet.

As you can see, I laid out the design in several sizes in order to give myself a few different options.  I then printed this out on specialist paper designed for custom-printing decals.  The process worked as a whole, though - despite sealing the page with matte varnish - when I applied MicroSol to the decal, I found that the black had 'bled' overnight as the fluid dried.  This wasn't really an issue though, as it was a simple design - I managed to tidy the bleeding up with black and white paint.  In the end then, there was an element of freehand after all!

A simple but effective design.
After this, it was simply a case of adding some weathering to the model as a whole.  Originally, I only weathered the black 'metal' areas (simply by using Chainmail), but Jon requested chips be added to the green areas too and this (in both our opinions, I think) lifted the look and feel of the model above and beyond what either of us had expected!

Finally, I matte varnished the rifle as I knew for a fact that this model would be handled countless times and I wanted to preserve the paintwork as best I could.  Once this was dry, I gloss varnished the pistol grip and the grenade launcher pump handle (sorry for my abysmal weapon terminology - I think I could probably identify the trigger correctly, but that's all...) to differentiate them from the metal areas.

I'm really proud of the way this model turned out and, I'll be honest, I was really heartbroken to have to give it back.  I would love to own one of these myself and if I were given the opportunity to paint another one in the future, I would definitely jump at the chance!

So, without any further rambling, here is the finished Pulse Rifle in all it's (or her) glory...

"I wanna introduce you to a personal friend of mine.
This is an M41-A pulse rifle. Ten millimetre with
over-and-under thirty millimetre pump action
grenade launcher."

"All right, sweethearts, what are you waiting for?
Breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the Corps!
A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm.
Every meal's a banquet! Every pay cheque a fortune!
Every formation a parade! I LOVE the Corps!"

"What do you mean, 'They cut the power'?
How could they cut the power, man? They're animals!"

"That's it man, game over man, game over!"

"Is this gonna be a stand-up fight, sir, or another bug hunt?"

"Man, I'm telling you, I got a bad feeling about this drop..."

"Maybe we got 'em demoralized."

"God damn it, that's not all! Because if one of those things
gets down here then that will be all!
Then all this - this bullsh*t that you think is so
important, you can just kiss all that goodbye!"

"But each one of these things comes from an egg, right?
So who's laying these eggs?"

"All right, sweethearts, you're a team and there's nothin'
to worry about. We come here, and we gonna conquer,
and we gonna kick some, is that understood?  That's
what we gonna do, sweethearts, we are going to go
and get some. All right, people, on the ready line!"

"We'd better get back, 'cause it'll be dark soon, and
they mostly come at night.  Mostly."

"Hudson, sir. He's Hicks."

"That's the grenade launcher.
I don't think you want to mess with that."

"Don't touch that. Dangerous, honey."

If you like the look of this and want to see anything smaller (!) that I've painted, you can (as always)...