Beginning Again with a Vintage MPC AT-AT

VFX Freak

Well-Known Member
I wanted to make models for special effects as soon as I understood how Star Wars was made. Sadly, by the time I got into the film business CGI had taken over. As a kid I had tried putting together an AT-AT that I could animate using several of the MPC kits, but I never finished the project. Now, too many years later, I’ve finally earned the time to try my hand at model building again. It seemed appropriate to tackle the old MPC Imperial Walker, and here’s the result of many hours of labor:

Vintage Walker.jpg
It’s not perfect, but I’m pretty happy with the results. It took some doing to get there, and I’ve been encouraged by some friends to share my experiences in a thread about the build. I have nothing to offer the experts of this community, but perhaps I can help others, who are like me, and are just starting out or just getting back into the hobby after a hiatus lasting years or decades.

If, like me, you admire the work of the likes of Scratchy, Monsieur Tox, Guy Cowen, Moffeaton, Joburg, Mike Salzo and the many other master modelers on these forums, you’re dying to develop the skills needed to get into the world of Studio Scale modeling and scratch-building. It seems to me that the way to get there is to start building models. Lots of them. You need to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t. Since those guys are worlds ahead of the curve, I thought I could share some of what I learned and hopefully help boost some people further along that curve. I’m open to suggestions and criticism, and if, along the way an expert or two decides to drop in, I’d love to hear what they have to say in terms of tips and tricks.

Thanks for stopping by.

David
 
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VFX Freak

Well-Known Member
The Walker sequence from ESB is my favorite sequence from the Star Wars movies. I have dreams off someday building a fully articulated Studio Scale Walker and producing a bit of stop-motion footage with it. I started in the business as an animator and still have the urge to animate the inanimate, so to speak. I’m following some of the AT-AT SS builds on the RPF and am amazed at what people like Julien Ce and Matt Riegel are doing.

With that goal in mind, I decided I better start practicing. Through a trade with Sym-Cha, another RPFer, I ended up with a vintage MPC Walker kit. The first thing I started doing was experimenting with colors.

I read in one thread that Floquil Reefer Gray was used to paint the Walker, and then I read that Floquil Aged Concrete was used as well. I tracked down some of the few remaining bottles of each since the Floquil paints are no longer made, and I sprayed some test chips comparing the enamel paints to what’s available today.

AT AT Chip Test.jpg

I thought the Reefer Gray looked too dark and then I found this on line:

Old Reefer Gray.jpg

This is a comparison of Floquil Reefer Gray in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Back in the 70s when ILM built these models, it appears that Reefer Gray was much lighter. I decided to go with a bottle of the Poly Scale acrylic Reefer Gray that I had as a reasonable match.

As for the Aged Concrete color, I tried a few more tests:

Aged Concrete CC.jpg

I probably should have gone with the Polly Scale for this color as well, but the Micro Lux paint is made by Vallejo and I really like their paint. It sprays beautifully, doesn’t smell, and cleans up easily with water. So I chose it even though it wasn’t the best match. (It's not as green as it appears here. My color correction is off.) Ultimately I don’t think it mattered for reasons that will become apparent.

So with my colors picked I started construction…
 
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VFX Freak

Well-Known Member
I’ll put it bluntly; the fit of the parts was garbage. I had to sand and file everything to get the parts to fit. I don’t have any photos of this part of the process, but it’s pretty straightforward. Everyone will have their favorite tools and materials, and I did discover a few that made life easier:

Modeling Tools-1.jpgModeling Tools-4.jpgModeling Tools-3.jpgModeling Tools-2.jpg

I told you this was for beginners! The Flex Files (along with a good set of metal files of various shapes and sizes) are great at removing flashing and sanding down seams.

I tried four different cements and the Tamiya extra thin stuff was my favorite. If you’re like me, you’re probably skeptical that capillary action will really allow the cement to reach all the nooks and crannies. Trust me, it does. I used way too much in the beginning and caused myself all sorts of problems. A little goes a long way. The Tenax 7R is great if you need to glue a stubborn piece or just dissolve your whole model into a pile of goo. The stuff is seriously powerful. The Pro Weld was recommended for plain Styrene and works very well, but I didn’t use it much since I liked the Tamiya so much. The thicker Tamiya cement, in the little orange bottle, was pretty useless to me. Several pieces I glued with it popped apart so I stopped using it. I’m sure I’m doing something wrong, but the other stuff works for me.

Filling seams is something I have trouble with and I still don’t have a favorite putty. The Tamiya White was too sticky and I found it a pain to deal with. The Perfect Plastic Putty and the Vallejo Plastic Putty are great because they are easy to work with and clean up with water, but I couldn’t get them to stick in small gaps. The stuff kept popping out when I sanded. The Mr. White Putty wasn’t bad. I like the Mr. Surfacer products a lot. It’s basically like painting with different thicknesses of liquid Styrene. It dries fast and sands nicely. You have to build it up in layers because it shrinks a lot when it dries.
Monsieur Tox recommended using cyanoacrylate to fill gaps. He said to scrape off the excess before it sets completely, and then you can sand it when it’s done. It dries harder than the surrounding plastic so you have to be careful or you will sand away the detail and even the structure around the seam. I haven’t mastered any of these techniques yet and need more practice. Any help with filling gaps would be greatly appreciated! I’ve looked at lots of video tutorials but haven’t found the method for me yet.

To scribe panel lines I bought a purpose built tool from Squadron. It removes thin strips of plastic and works well. I need to get better with it. I scribed all my lines too deep and they aren’t what you’d call “straight” but I’m getting better, which is the whole point.

More to follow. Thanks for looking.
 
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VFX Freak

Well-Known Member
I assembled the parts and made a few modifications. There are threads about all the inaccuracies of this kit, but I wasn’t going to address them because I don’t have the time or the skills for that yet. I did decide to add scribed panel lines to the feet and some U-Channel Evergreen plastic strips to the front of the legs. Here’s a shot of the legs from one of the actual AT-AT models with those parts circled.

U-Channel.jpg

The strips have fallen off here and there over the years, but I looked at the scene on Blu Ray and decided to put the U-Channel strips on the front and back of the top section of each leg, and the front of each lower section. I used Evergreen part 261, 1.5mm U-Channel, and it fit well. I just had to sand down the strips so they wouldn’t stick out too far. Here’s an assembled and primed leg with the strips and scribed panel lines:

MRX MPC Walker-6.jpg

I used Dymo labeling tape as a guide for the scribing and just worked at it. It’s tedious and I made mistakes, which I filled with putty, but I’m mostly happy with the final results. The lines are too deep and wide, but I figured that weathering would take the curse off of them. Also, I did a more simplified version of the actual pattern for sanity’s sake.

As for primer, I used Tamiya’s Fine Gray primer. I decanted it and sprayed it through my airbrush because aerosol cans shoot so much paint everywhere. I have a small spray booth in my work area and it can handle an airbrush, but the volume of paint from spray cans gets out of hand. Also I just like the control you have with an airbrush.
I found this tip for decanting on the Web: https://www.tamiyausa.com/articles/decanting-tamiya-spray-301?category_id=8&type=article#.VcTgEPlVhBc

Modeling Tools-5.jpg

Cut a plastic pipette down to make a tube that fits tightly over the nozzle. Seal the connection with electrical tape and spray into a bottle or jar. I cover the jar with tape and poke the end of the pipette through a hole in the tape. You need to poke another bleed hole in the tape to let air out, and then you just spray the paint into the jar. Let the paint sit out for a day so the propellant gasses bubble off through the hole in the tape, and then you can airbrush away.

Here’s the head with a coat of primer. You can see that the scribed lines are too deep and a bit crooked. These were the first ones I tried. The kit has raised panel lines on these parts, but I had to do so much reshaping to get the parts to fit together that I destroyed the raised lines.

MRX MPC Walker-5.jpg

For reference I used screen captures from the Blu Ray and dozens of photos I took of the Jon Berg model when it was on display in Los Angeles in 2007. Looking at the actual model you can see a texture on the armor plating on the sides. Here’s the top, back, left of the Berg model for reference:

Texture.jpg

They could have just sprayed primer from far enough away that it dried to a pebbly texture, or they could have applied something specific; I don’t know. I decided to try and duplicate the texture by applying a product by Vallejo called Sandy Paste. I then primed it and this was the result.

MRX MPC Walker-3.jpg

Pretty crappy if I do say so myself! I tried sanding the texture down a bit but the sandy paste is like sand stuck on with rubber cement and it just peeled off. So I tried painting some of the Mr. Surfacer 500 over it to see if I could fill in the low points and smooth things out a bit. I sprayed a coat of the Pollyscale Reefer Gray over that and the results made me happy:

MRX MPC Walker-13.jpg

At least it’s starting to look like something. Sorry if this has rambled on too long and at too simple a level, but I would have appreciated information like this when I started, so I thought it might help others who are getting started. Thanks for looking. More to come.

David
 
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VFX Freak

Well-Known Member
Next I started playing around with how to achieve the final finish. I chose one of the engine parts from beneath the Walker because I figured if I screwed it up badly it wouldn’t be too noticeable.

I painted it the Aged Concrete color and it came out like this:

MRX MPC Walker-9.jpg

I sprayed the Aged Concrete thinly to let some of the Reefer Gray show through. My plan was to scrape away the outer layer of paint here and there to replicate the scratches and damage I saw on the model. At this point I was highly skeptical that I was on the right track with my colors. I don’t think they painted the model this way at ILM, but I was determined to make it work somehow. I kept telling myself the washes used in weathering would solve everything.

The next thing I did was use a sanding stick to scrape up the surface, covering it with fine scratches and chips that looked good for the scale of the kit. I don’t have any photos of the engine with just the scrapes, but here’s the head:

MPC Head Faded-10.jpg

I like the scrapes and scratches, but man that color looks wrong.

I then went in with some MIG Ammo products that are basically thinned enamels for creating streaking effects, and I used some enamel washes as well. Here’s the first stage of the weathering on the belly engine:

Weathering Test-2.jpg

It’s funny, I was pretty happy with it at the time, but after everything I went through after this to get it to look right, I can see that this is very mild. I did like the look though, especially the way the wash catches in the fine scratches; and I thought I was getting some of that “ILM” feel going with the spatters and splotches. At this point I was just flicking thinned paint from a stiff brush with my thumb. Any excess I would wash away with Mineral Spirits, or White Spirits as it’s called across the pond. These are the enamel products I was using:

Finished_I think-1.jpg

You can mix your own, but I liked the consistency of knowing what I’d get each time I opened the bottle.
I next started weathering the legs with washes, after scratching them up. Here’s a progression:

Weathering Progression-1.jpg

From this I learned that it’s really easy for things to get too dark fast. I should have made the Aged Concrete a lighter (and grayer!) color to start with. If you look up the "scale effect" online you’ll see lots of thoughts and theories about what to do to compensate for the fact that a smaller model needs to be painted lighter than a full sized vehicle of the same color because there is less surface area reflecting light, and therefore the smaller model appears darker. Lightening the paint with 10% white is often suggested, and I should have done that.

Since I didn’t, I tried this instead. I used white oil paint to try and fade the color of the hull a little before weathering it.

MRX MPC Walker Faded-10.jpg

Because oils take so long to dry I added some alkyd drying medium to the paint to speed up drying. This works! The first time I used too much and the paint dried before I could spread it around. However, with just a touch of the drying medium you don't need to wait forever for the oils to dry, and you can enjoy the flexibility of oil paints. I was pretty happy with the results and hoped it would help in the long run. I did the same with the head and began to weather it with the washes and streaking grime:

Weathered Head.jpg

Long way to go but at least I finally had hope that I’d get there eventually!

More to follow and thanks for looking.

David
 
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Rats

Sr Member
Great thread David. Your are learning fast! Nice results so far.
On behalf of a large section of the board members and contributors, thanks for describing the processes you are going through. It can seem very daunting to a first timer when all you see is finished models, or a step-by-step with only the good results shown and your work doesn't seem to be progressing as (supposedly) easily. It's good to see the mistakes and how you have corrected them. Most useful is seeing that if something goes wrong, then there's probably a way to fix it, or at least another way than you first thought.
Carry on!
 

Sym-Cha

Master Member
Excellent thread David, ... great tips and works in progress ... now I almost feel I'm obliged to paint my still bare 1981 MPC AT-AT, since I provided you with yours ... but I don't have an airbrush so dry-brushing it will be for me mostly, however first I'll be testing my weathering skills on an even smaller scale AT-AT (1/350) :



. . . with brush streaks over a wet bar of soap and chalk pastels as Christrom suggested in one of his AT-AT builds :)

Please continue . . .

Chaim
 
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VFX Freak

Well-Known Member
Thanks for the positive feedback Rats and Sym-Cha. I wasn't sure if my observations would be much use here but after your comments I'll continue posting the rest of it.

And Chaim, I think I would go blind trying to weather an AT-AT that small. I'd love to see what you do with it and your vintage MPC kit.

David
 

stopeverything

New Member
I'm eager to see the rest of this build! :) I've got two of these kits that I need to finish up, one built and unpainted and the other is still in the box.
 

VFX Freak

Well-Known Member
The wonders of misting and glazes:
I haven’t mentioned clear coats. I did use a coat of Vallejo matte varnish over the Reefer Gray coat before spraying the Aged Concrete. My thinking was that it would offer a little more protection to the Reefer Gray so that when I scraped and scratched at the Aged Concrete on the surface, there would be less chance of going all the way through to the primer or even the plastic. I think it helped a little. If I did scrape through too far I just touched up the spot with the Reefer Gray paint. Here’s a clear shot of the scraped leg (sorry for the wildly varying lighting on these shots. I'm just using available light to speed up the photo sessions) with one coat of a light grey acrylic wash:

Legs WIP-14.jpg

I started with acrylic washes because they’re easy to clean up and non-toxic. However, they build up quickly and are harder to wash away than enamel washes. Also, since they are water based like the acrylic paint on the model, it’s possible to rub away the paint if you scrub too hard trying to remove the wash. I’ve read that acrylics are supposed to be waterproof once cured, but I still had some problems.

Once I had weathered the legs to a point that I thought matched the original model, I realized they were too dark, and they were still too tan colored. The legs looked like they were painted the color of cardboard boxes. So I decided to try a misting coat of the Reefer Gray. I wanted it to be a very thin and transparent coat, to retain as much of the weathering detail as I could.

I did some Googling and learned about adding glazing medium to paint to make it more transparent. Glazing medium is basically the base and binder of the paint with no pigment. Vallejo makes a glaze to add to their acrylic paints so I decided to give it a try.

Here’s an example of what you can do by misting on a glaze. This is a practice model I finished earlier this year of the Orion from 2001. The decals in the kit, which are used on the wings, were so dark and contrasty that they looked terrible. I painted all the panels on the fuselage in the same overly dark tones. I only have a crappy cell phone shot of that stage:

MRX WIP Crop.jpg

I mixed what I’ll call a glaze of equal parts off-white Vallejo acrylic paint and glaze medium, thinned that by 50% with Vallejo airbrush thinner, and then carefully misted it in thin layers over the model. Here’s the result:

Orion Nikon Shoot-3.jpg

The panels and decals are toned down and it looks much more reasonable.

BTW, I built this (wildly inaccurate!) Moebius Orion kit to get comfortable with my airbrush. I worked out all my thinning ratios and pressures for various brands of paint and different applications and am pretty confident with it now. It really is about the best tool for this hobby.

So I applied what I’d learned on the Orion to the Walker legs to see what I could do. I made a glaze of Reefer Gray (in this case I used the closest Vallejo equivalent, which is called US Gray, because I had worked out how to use the Vallejo glaze medium and I didn’t want to screw anything up) and the glaze medium, again about fifty-fifty. I thinned that about 50% with Vallejo airbrush thinner, and then added some Vallejo acrylic clear matte varnish because I wanted a transparent coat without making the mixture too thin to spray well. Here’s the result of the first attempt:

Weatehring Progress-14.jpgWeatehring Progress-15.jpg

The leg on the left looks more like the studio model to me, though I think I went a little too heavy with the gray. It also faded the weathering enough that I would have to go back in and touch up the spots that are supposed to be pretty dark.

I gave the same treatment to the head:

Weathering Progress-19.jpg

Then I began reapplying the streaks and splotches. I used what I’ll refer to as the dot and streak method. I’d dab on spots of thinned brownish gray enamels with a brush, let them dry for a few minutes, and then smear them around with a flat brush dipped in mineral spirits. Pull the streaks in the direction that makes the most sense for the area you’re working on. Down for rain and gravity, back for jetblast, etc. I studied the photos of the original model closely and just tried to replicate what they did.

I also began weathering the hull. The original model has panels that vary in tone and looks like it was washed in a few different colors. There are warm bits and cool bits and I wanted to replicate that look. I used enamel washes and airbrushed one panel a slightly darker shade. Here’s a WIP shot:

Warmer Shading-6.jpg

Still too warm in tone, but getting somewhere. The sense of scale is helped by all the subtle variations in color.

At this point it was time to see how everything was coming together, so I stuck the major parts together with UHU Tac. It’s one of the many non-toxic and reusable sticky putty products out there like Blue Tac. It comes off the model easily and has all sorts of uses. I use it to hold small parts to wooden sticks for airbrushing, and most importantly I wrap a snake of the stuff around the bottom of paint and glue jars when I open them on my desk. I’ve spilled enough jars of toxic and destructive liquid thanks.

Anyway, here’s the first assembly which was mostly a test to see how the different components matched color-wise:

Color Check-3.jpg

Because I was doing most of the experimenting on the legs, the body hasn’t gone through as many layers and changes, so it doesn’t really match the legs and head too well. The hull is a little too warm. The next post will address this.

Thanks for looking!

David
 
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Sym-Cha

Master Member
That's truly amazing ... I love that box cover with your AT-AT . . . I can't believe it just sat waiting in my attic to come to full bloom by your hand . . . I still have another all new AT-AT kit still plastic wrapped and waiting in a box with the ROTJ cover. Originally I intended to use only the front legs of both kits for 1 complete AT-AT which would give it more 'moveability' when being 'animated', yes I too dreamed of doing an animation short many eons ago :wacko

Chaim
 

VFX Freak

Well-Known Member
All credit to Matt Riegel, aka Dragnink, here on the RPF for putting together the box art mockup. It made me smile in that wistfully nostalgic way...
 

Randy13

Well-Known Member
What a great thread! Thank you for sharing your progress. I'm going to be using this as a guide when it comes time for me to build my AT-AT.

For filling gaps, I use Bondo spot putty. It does shrink a little when it dries but I really like how well it sands and files. I haven't tried the surfacer products or what Tox recommended so I can't compare. Bondo is just what I'm comfortable with. Here's an image of what it looks like and can be found at Walmart.

bondo-glazing-spot-putty-907.jpg
 

VFX Freak

Well-Known Member
Thanks, Randy13, for the kind words and the tip about the Bondo. It sounds like such a garage solution that I wouldn't be surprised to learn that's what the guys at ILM used. I'll have to get some and give it a try.
 
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VFX Freak

Well-Known Member
Hello Filters!

I think I got a little ahead of myself with the last post. I don’t have full documentation of every step and I skipped a lot of the steps for weathering the hull. Again, I used the many reference photos I have from seeing the model in 2007. Here’s a link to my Photobucket page where I uploaded about 40 of the pictures:

http://s1251.photobucket.com/user/Emmerichs/library/Imperial Walker

I worked really hard on duplicating the long streaks running down from the Flakvierling kit parts stuck all over the side of the hull. I used various mixes of gray and brown streaking grime from MIG Ammo. I was hoping to just dab the paint on and streak it down, but that would have been too easy. I ended up doing it as a combination of brushwork and streaking with a brush moistened with mineral spirits. It was easy to correct mistakes, or start a streak completely from scratch, by wiping it away with the mineral spirits. Because the coat of paint beneath the enamel streaking effects is cured acrylic, the mineral spirits and enamels didn’t hurt anything.

Having said that, if you let the mineral/white spirits puddle anywhere for a while it will eat down to the plastic. Ask me how I know…
Here’s the hull with the long streaks:

Hull CU Warm.jpg

I also spattered very thin enamel paint for the splotches and drops. Instead of flicking a brush with my thumb I used the method where I dipped a brush in the thin paint, wiped off the excess, and then sprayed over the bristles with air from my airbrush set to about 15psi. You have to be careful, because you can get paint everywhere if the brush is too wet (again, ask me how I know) but you can wipe off any mistakes with mineral spirits.

The bigger splotches are just dabbed on with a brush and then I poked at them with more mineral spirits to make them run in interesting patterns. Enamels work much better for this than acrylics in my opinion, and I’m guessing that’s what they used at ILM because it achieves a result very similar to what I see on their models.

Then I looked at some more screen captures from the Blu Ray and realized that the long streaks aren’t present on the models in the movie! They were added by the people who did the model restoration. So I wiped off a few hours of work and started over. The following result looks more like what I see on screen:

Hull CU Final.jpg

In the above photo you can also see more areas of lighter and darker shading of various tones. (You can also see some bits of snow, but I’ll get to that later.) The lighter gray shade near the top of the hull is another layer of gray glaze lightly airbrushed on to fade the color and hopefully make the model look bigger by simulating the falloff of light toward the bottom.

The other variations were accomplished by using filters, which are a wonderful thing I knew nothing about until recently. Filters are extremely thin layers of paint brushed or sprayed on to change color tones. They can be so subtle that at first you don’t see a change in the surface at all, but by building a few transparent layers you can achieve very realistic effects.

I used pre-made filters, again from MIG Ammo, but you can always mix your own.

Finished_I think-2.jpg

The legs of my walker were looking too gray after the glaze I applied, and the body was looking too warm, so I used tan and grey filters to try and even things out. Here’s the rough assembly before I managed to get everything color matched well enough:

Color Check-3.jpg

Same photo as the earlier post, but I wanted to include it here so you can compare it to how it looks after I applied more filters to even out the tones. I did a little more weathering to the legs after the above photo, and then I poured the blue filter into my airbrush right out of the bottle as is. I sprayed the hull and it magically changed to a bluer tint without losing any detail. It was indeed like putting a subtle color correcting photographic filter on a lens. Here’s the result:

Color Check 2-3 CC.jpg

I think this looks pretty good. The hull is still a little lighter than the legs, but I see that when I look at the original model. The cardboard was a bad surface for me to photograph the model against because it bounces warm light all over the place and makes the model look too warm. In the next post I’ll have more photos with more accurate colors and an appropriate background.

Thanks for looking!

David
 
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dragnink

Well-Known Member
This thread has the hallmarks of being authored by David Emmerichs--every aspect of the process has been systematically broken down with calculated precision into easily digestible bites. And delicious bites they are. I think the final result speaks for itself. You turned a cheap kit into something that looks better than what they had on the original box for the retail product!
 
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