I wanted to make an 'architectural' miniature of the vessel, like the industrial models Nakatomi display in their plaza. This makes sense, it doesn't have to appear realistic or weathered, just detailed and accurate. It also lets me work at a scale thats too small for a useful studio model.
Instead of kit bashing the usual way with styrene parts, I started looking for random things from hardware stores and supermarkets. I had assembled a bunch of pieces that would go well with each other.
But I discovered a big problem with this approach - consumer plastics.
A lot of consumer and hardware plastics you come across are made from polyethylene or polyurethane. The one thing these plastics have going for them, is that they are chemically unreactive. Thats great for storing bleach, but it means that its quite hard to paint them; the solvents in the paint will not seep into the surface, and the pigment just flakes off when dry. The same thing happens with glue, it just hardens and cracks off.
I tried a whole bunch of glues, even the all-plastics one with the special accelerator which is supposed to soften up the plastic and glue the ungluable, it didn't work. It finally struck me when I looked at the bottle of glue itself, and realised the container it came in was the very material I was trying to bond. So, back to the drawing board.
It was also dawning on me that the particular design I had for this ship was going to require massive duplication of parts. If I wasn't smart about it, it would actually be duplication of labour. I started looking at alternatives. One idea was making masters and casting the parts, but that brought its own problems. So I started looking at 3d printing instead.
Up to this point, most of the 3d prints I'd seen used the powder sintering method. This results in a rough pourous material, definitely not what you want for a small scale miniature. But Shapeways were also offering a material they call Frosted Detail. This process uses a laser cured acrylic polymer, and is much more suitable for miniature work.
So I set about designing the parts I needed in blender. Because of the high cost of the printed parts, and the volume I would need, I was still going to need to do the 'bulk' parts another way, and just use the printed parts as greebles.
My modelling skills are very rusty, but this is the kind of thing you can just make up as you go along. I measured out the real world piece as accurately as I could, and got to it. There was a lot of back and forth, getting the mesh printable over several failed submissions. But this was the final result:
The parts have a release/support material on them, similar to wax, which must be removed. The best way to do it is with an ultrasonic cleaning bath, the kind used for jewellery cleaning. I just washed them with soapy water a few times and let them air dry.
The accuracy of the parts was impressive, they had a tight friction fit in the low grade, oddly shaped party popper.
I had also arrived at a possible solution for the polyurethane problem. It was hacky, but it worked. If I wrapped the parts in PVC electrical tape, I could glue and paint to the tape surface, and it would stick to the underlying part by tack alone. I could also use tiny pieces of tape to add detail.
Putting it all together into a test fit, it was starting to take shape. The next step was working out the internal lighting, and that was going to make all of this seem like a walk in the park.