Saturday, 14 July 2012


A Toy Conversion

Being an avid fan of Gerry Anderson puppet and live action TV series from the 1960s, I have a virtually unlimited range of wonderful, futuristic designs in the shows to choose from for modelling inspiration. While I love the many designs of the ‘hero’ models from these shows; the five Thunderbird craft from the very famous show of the same name, the vehicles and aircraft of the Spectrum organisation in “Captain Scarlet”, the transporters and helijets featured in “Joe 90” and the wonderfully realistic models from the live action, “UFO”, for me it was the ‘guest’ vehicles and planes that managed to capture my attention. Unless they were featured prominently in particular episodes, these models would flash by in a scene or two, never to be spotted again, unless they were remodelled and repainted for appearances in other shows. Nothing in the Gerry Anderson model universe was ever wasted, unless of course it was scheduled to be destroyed in an almighty ball of flame which occurred on a regular basis! Models from one show would turn up in later episodes or even completely different series. These models were the ones that I wanted to see more of, the ones that appeared in just a single episode and then vanished, only to reappear in a different guise in the future. For me personally, as much as I love all the designs from the shows, I prefer emulating the style of the models, making my own original creations in the process. Over the years I have managed to copy the distinctive style of the various vehicles and aircraft of the Gerry Anderson universe, while still retaining my own originality in making something that hasn’t been seen before.

      Perhaps a decade ago, I purchased a toy tank for about $15. Yes, it was cheap and nasty and came with a long cord connected to a primitive remote control unit. It was ‘pre-loved’ and a little tattered around the edges. One of the plastic tracks had been broken and this had been repaired with a small piece of black tape and one of the wheels was about to fall off. Thinking to myself that I could do ‘something’ with it soon, I threw it into a box, just one of many boxes of such things I own, and promptly forgot all about it. Ten years later, I was sorting through some of these boxes of ‘stuff’ and happened to come across it. In that space of time I had amassed quite a collection of web photos of various vehicles from Gerry Anderson shows that interested me. Among them was a yellow lunar tank from the Captain Scarlet episode, “Crater 101”. For the tank itself, Derek Meddings, the Special Effects master in charge of the model sequences, along with the other talented model makers had cannibalised two sets of tracks from an M-40 tank toy which was available in the 60s, added on a cabin and detailed it with various kit parts. I’ll do the same, I thought and I’ll also add some lights to give the model that little something extra. As to the make of the tank that the toy was supposed to represent, I believe it was a Leopard tank. The scale seemed a little larger than 1:35, however the resulting model adheres to this scale in order to add some 35th drivers in the cabin.
      It’s amazing how much dust, fluff and bits of ‘goodness-knows-what’ can be found inside an old toy when you take it apart. ‘Gutting’ the interior consisted of removing all vestiges of the wires, gears, cogs and ancient circuit boards, along with the non-working lights at the front of the toy. The good thing about old toys is that they are usually screwed together, so this part of the exercise was quite easy and enjoyable. I also removed some of the extra surface detail on the outer hull, either by filing it down or completely removing it with a sharp knife.  Once completely gutted, I installed new, super bright clear LEDs into the two front recesses for the headlights and drilled four, 3mm holes to accept the rear taillights, consisting of 3mm LEDs. All the positive ends of the LEDs were joined together with heat shrink tubing, as were the negative ends. Testing the lights every step of the way was an absolute necessity. There’s nothing worse than permanently sealing up your model, only to find that one or more of the bulbs aren’t working. Most frustrating! The only addition to the upper hull at this early stage was a small piece of 2mm styrene on each side to hide some of the exposed drive wheels at the rear of the tracks.
      What design to make the cabin? The slab-sided and trapezoidal shaped approach was the easiest. The lunar tank from Captain Scarlet featured a similar cabin. Why mess with what works well? Two millimetre sheet styrene became the basic structure, with three angled sections along its interior length to provide additional strength. There was a certain area atop the toy that the cabin would have to occupy, so the styrene was measured and cut out very carefully. Extra bracing and putty was also added to complete the shape. Each window area was carefully removed and sanded smooth. At this point in construction, I gave some thought to the cabin interior and decided to add another LED to illuminate the two drivers that would be installed later. The forward bracing bulkhead had a hole drilled for the light. A pair of 35th scale soldiers were located and converted into something more appropriate with trimming, puttying and painting. Sitting on their seats that I also found in the spares box, I discovered that their heads would protrude through the roof of the cabin. A bit uncomfortable that. Making them ‘legless’ seemed to help in lowering them to the correct height to see out of the windows.

Removing a section of the upper hull of the toy and replacing it with a piece of sheet styrene from the underside also helped in re-positioning them. The cabin interior itself was detailed with a variety of kit parts designed to look vaguely functional. Small strips of styrene became the console areas. This was sprayed in grey primer and hand painted details added with a small brush. It was then that I decided to add yet another light to the top of the cabin, this time a green, flashing LED. The wires were joined to the cabin interior ones, again with heat shrink, and then fed through the circular opening in the upper hull to connect with the main lights in the body. Fiddly, but visually pleasing, the installation of the lighting added another day to construction. The wires led out through the battery compartment on the underside. This had been used to put the six Double ‘A’ batteries required for the remote control unit to operate the toy, but it came in very handy to enclose my dual battery pack to power the LEDs for lighting. A small, single screw held the cover in place.

      The next step seemed to be to add something to the rear area of the toy, just aft of the cabin. It was then that I made the decision to incorporate some domes or spheres into a structure that could contain fuel. Spares boxes – aren’t they just indispensible? I found a large plastic sphere and two smaller domes, the kind that you get sweets or cheap toys in. Yes, I have an entire collection of these as well. Most useful they are too. Some detailing was added using Evergreen strips and narrow pieces of ridged sheeting. The necessary piping came from kit sprues, carefully cut down to the right sizes. I also managed to find a couple of clear plastic glitter tubes, the kind you buy to sprinkle ‘fairy dust’ on your daughter’s costumes, and a pair of pacer pencil lead containers to add to the detailing on the upper hull. The sphere and domes were glued to a styrene base and primed, along with the tubes and lead containers. Wattle Yellow, an acrylic car colour, was used to paint them the shade of yellow I required. Extra detailing consisted of drawn panel lines, very narrow strips of car pinstriping tape and some generic decals. Masking of the LEDs for spray painting was accomplished with Tamiya tape and Blu-Tac.

      Originally I was going to paint the vehicle a red colour – I had even purchased the spray can, something called Marinello Red. A flash of inspiration had me thinking that the red taillights wouldn’t show up very well against a red hull, so a decision was made to alter the colour to Sapphire Blue, mainly because I already had a can of that! The interior of the cabin, as yet unattached to the main body, but trailing wires for the lighting, was masked off and a coat of the colour applied to both it and the main tank hull. This was after being primed in grey first, of course. So far, so good. The lower hull of the tank toy, untouched except for the addition of various kit parts for details, was primed and then sprayed in Strato Grey, while the wheels were done in Gunmetal. Luckily the wheels were all joined to the lower hull with small screws which were easily removed. The one wheel that was damaged had been repaired with a suitable width of plastic tube to replace the broken inner hub. The cabin was permanently fixed to the upper hull at this stage and a long, thin piece of black elastic applied to the join to act as a seal and disguise some surface irregularities. Quite by a stroke of luck, I happened to come across a pair of suitable rear view mirrors in my spares box that only required the addition of some chrome tape to become part of the model after it was completed.

      Now that the basic colours had been applied, it was time for the labour-intensive part – the addition of a selection of kit parts, panel lines, decals, differently coloured panels and other details – all followed up by weathering and dirtying down. As it looked at this stage, the tanker resembled nothing more than a child’s toy. I was pleased with the overall look of the model, especially the rear section with the fuel tanks. These were weathered separately from the main body as they would be attached to the hull at a later date. As with the main hull, the first stage of weathering was to dry brush with Tamiya Flat Earth. This was added after the panel lines, pinstriping tape and decals had been applied. The 3mm wide pinstriping tape was carefully sliced into 1mm wide strips. On the cabin, soon to be permanently positioned on the upper hull, I added a few 3mm wide strip of red tape to give a little extra colour to the surface. The hundred or so decals came from the spare decal box (yes, I have a large one of those too), and they were general enough to avoid being recognised, although a modelling friend has since pointed out the Bulgarian Airforce stars that I used! So, after the addition of layers of decals, lines, tape and dry brushing, the final effect was one used by Derek Meddings himself – rubbing pencil across a mask on the model’s surface to add shading and panel lines to areas. Sandpaper gave me the rough surface to remove the graphite from the pencil and Post-It notes became the masks over which I rubbed my finger to create the effect of panelling on some of the surfaces of the model. A small hole was drilled into the roof of the cabin and this became the position for the crane unit that I found in the spares box. This contains the hoses for the transfer of fuel from the tanks across to an aircraft, or whatever. A quick spray with a clear, flat varnish and the lights were uncovered and tested once again.
      Overall, I’m very happy with the resulting model. I used similar techniques to what must have been done with some of the models in the 1960s, that of converting a toy into a usable, futuristic vehicle.  The tracks turn quite convincingly, although they are in a poor condition and will eventually disintegrate in time. The weathering is deliberately overdone so as to read well under lights for photographic purposes and I feel that the design would incorporate itself well into the Gerry Anderson universe.

No comments:

Post a Comment