AMT’s “Cadet Series” – Star Trek: The Motion Picture Set – Part 2

Welcome to Part 2, where I’ll cover the decaling and painting of the AMT Cadet Series of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  For those of you just tuning in, take a few moments and have a look at what I put up on the kit itself and its assembly, because there’s a lot of good to be said for this kit…and it’s best to approach this from the beginning.  For those of you who already saw part 1, please accept my apologies for not getting this up sooner – life is a bit hectic, and I kept procrastinating.  However, regardless of which way you arrived, glad to have you and let’s get on with the build and review!

Decals

The decals for this kit, as I mentioned previously, are really pretty – extreme levels of detail, they got my anticipation up to some extreme levels.

AMT CS TMP Fig 6

On paper, they look beautiful, and I’m really excited to get to working with them.

And much like Star Trek V, my hopes got raised to unhappy levels.

It’s not all bad news here, let’s get that straight – I’ve developed a very definitive love-hate relationship with these decals.  I am amazed at the detail and the prettiness.  I am severely disappointed in the film material that AMT chose to use for them.

 

Sadly, real life rarely looks as good as things did on paper.

Sadly, real life rarely looks as good as things did on paper.

Waterslides should be soft and flexible, and these are just way too stiff and brittle to be easy to work with.  Based on the behavior of these decals, I’d have to push the “difficulty level” listed on the front of the kit from “2” to “3+” – basically at this point I consider every decal to be a separate part, and of particularly delicate nature.

TEENYJust so you know, some of these decals are tiny – the kind of tiny one usually associates with photo-etch parts or nightmares of insects crawling into your ears….that’s a regular-sized toothpick, by the way.

Cutting the backing is easy, and they absorb water quick, so within 30-60 seconds even the biggest of them can be slid off without a hassle.

Once off the backing, though, is where your trouble starts.

If you breathe on these the wrong way, they rip.  Once they’re on the model, they don’t conform to surfaces that aren’t very flat.  Both of these would be forgivable, because normally one could use solvents like Micro-Sol or Solvaset to soften them up and get them to lay flat.

Except these decals don’t respond to either Micro-Set or Solvaset.  Gaaaarrrrr!

The instructions recommend slicing the larger ones into more manageable sizes, but I suspect someone in marketing at AMT realized what a tragedy these were and tried to cover their butts this way.

First, some how-tos…and by the way, if you’ve never done waterslides, then you might want to shelf this kit until you’ve done one or two others and feel comfortable dealing with difficult models.

Stuff You’ll need to Apply Waterslide Decals

In case you’re new to decals, here’s what you’ll need and/or want:

  1. A pan, bowl, or large mug with some clean warm water in it – this is your “bath”
  2. A large dish or plate with a paper towel on it – place your container from 1 on this and keep that paper towel damp
  3. A pair of stainless-steel tweezers to hold the decals while they soak
  4. A couple of soft paintbrushes (you’ll use these to push decals around and lift them up for repositioning)
  5. A few toothpicks/cocktail sticks (because the paintbrushes in 2 are likely to be too big for a few of these decals)
  6. A decal-setting solution like the Micro-Scale set (Micro-Set and Micro-Sol), Solvaset, or similar
  7. (optional) a spritz-bottle with some clean or distilled water
  8. …and specifically for this kit, you’re going to need canopy glue, or perhaps some white school glue watered down, and a very sharp hobby razor (preferably brand new blade).

How to Apply Waterslide Decals

The process is as follows – cut the decal you want free, grip it by the paper backing with the tweezers (make sure not to grip over the decal itself), and immerse the decal in the water tub from (1), above.  If it’s large, the paper will “roll up” around your tweezers.  It’s okay, this is normal.

While the decal is soaking, sprinkle a little water on the surface of the model (or spray with the bottle from (7)).  Follow the instructions for your decal setting solution (some have you apply to the model before the decal, some have you do it afterwards, some both).

Wet

Don’t be bashful about getting your model wet.  You want the decal to “swim” into place with no bubbles underneath.

Once the decal is about ready the paper will “unroll” a bit (small ones won’t have rolled up, so ignore this for those).  Take them out of the water and shake off the excess, or tap it lightly on the paper towel to draw away the extra water.

Test the ‘slide’ of the decal with a finger by gently giving it a tiny push and see if it moves easily on the paper.  If it doesn’t, back in the bath with it for another 15-30 sec, then try again.

Oh, if it comes off in the bath, just fish it out on the paper backing, it’s ready.

Slide the decal off the backing and onto the model, where it should “float” freely on the already-wet surface.  Once it’s in the right place, tear off a piece of your paper towel and use it to wick away excess fluid.  As the fluid gets pulled away the decal will lock itself in place.  If it locks in the wrong place, you can always put some more water back down on it and under it, which should loosen it up and let you move it a bit to get it back into position.

Get the decal into position while it's wet.

Slide it around until it’s in the right spot, then wick away the extra water and let it dry.

After it’s in the right place and locked, apply the last of your solvents according to their instructions, and let the model dry for a few hours, preferably overnight.  After that, use a clear varnish or laquer (I use rattle-cans for this, but if you prefer an airbrush that’s perfectly fine too) to seal the model and protect the decals.

 

 

 

And now, back to the kit…

Under normal circumstances, I apply the decals for a model after painting it, but in this case, the paint for the Federation ships was purely detail work, so I did them decals-first.  The Klingon I did as paint first like traditional models.

Since Reliant and Enterprise are very similar to one another on the decal front, let’s cover those together.

The big saucer decals were probably among the easiest to apply, as the saucer sections are almost flat – but due to the decals’ brittleness and stiff nature, you can still get rips and you’re likely to get a lot of ‘silvering’ in the applied decals. You’ll also get some overhang, and because of the stiffness of the decal material this overhang won’t lay flat at all.  Just leave it there until it dries, and then use your hobby knife, dragging the blade backwards along the model edge (if you tried to carve it away you’d end up with a bunch of little cuts along the saucer – doing the backwards drag will strip away the overhang and not damage the model surface).

Overhang on the saucer - let it dry then come back and scrape it off.

Overhang on the saucer – let it dry then come back and scrape it off.

Quite a few places had this overhang problem, but the same tactic worked for them all.

Quite a few places had this overhang problem, but the same tactic worked for them all.

I’d ask that if anyone out there has found a decal solvent that works on these, I’d appreciate it if you got word to me about what you used.

I found it best to leave a section of the lower hull unapplied to give me a gripping place (because if I grabbed a spot where decals had been recently applied, I’d likely shred them or just pull them off with my fingers), and gave the decals a day or so before putting decals on the empty spots.  In the case of Enterprise, that was the engineering hull, while Reliant’s engines made perfect handles.

Once the big plates were on, I went to the smaller detail decals – and this was where it paid off that I’d done a big version of both ships before, so I knew where most of the details belonged.  For those of you who haven’t had such experience, this is where the box from the kit comes in very helpful.

Not terribly helpful, those little decal callouts.

Not terribly helpful, those little decal callouts.

 

The instructions, unfortunately, are not very helpful at all.  You get an idea of which decals go onto what part of the model, but they don’t point to specifically where they belong.  The film material becomes a real problem here, now, because most of the parts the small ones go on are curved and the small ones just sit flat on them rather than conforming.

 

It’s the little things in life that really irritate you sometimes.

It’s the little things in life that really irritate you sometimes.

This is where a few strategic cuts with the hobby knife (don’t drag the point, but rather position the knife on the decal and “roll” the blade over it if you can) can release the tension / pressure on the decal.  If that’s not a suitable method, you will have to resort to a different method – in my case, I used canopy glue.  The glue made the inner surface of the decal ‘tacky’ and when dry it would be clear as glass.

 

 

Even being careful like this, rips will still happen…and unfortunately, some of these decals are so small that a rip becomes almost impossible to repair.

Like the shuttle bay on the Reliant. Grr. By the way, that’s the end of a toothpick in the shot for scale – it’s closer to the camera than the model is.

Like the shuttle bay on the Reliant. Grr. By the way, that’s the end of a toothpick in the shot for scale – it’s closer to the camera than the model is.

The engine nacelle decals were also particularly challenging, because they were made to “wrap” the nacelles up.  Unfortunately, this material is not soft enough to “wrap” anything, and rather prefers to stand out straight.  Again, I applied canopy glue to the interior of them and then pressed them down onto the surface until it held fast.

I think I heard one of the model gremlins mutter “Wrap this!” right about here.

I think I heard one of the model gremlins mutter “Wrap this!” right about here.

Fig 42 These little sections were harder to deal with than the large ones – larger ones held themselves in place with glue more easily, these little buggers kept popping up.

These little sections were harder to deal with than the large ones – larger ones held themselves in place with glue more easily, these little buggers kept popping up.

These little sections were harder to deal with than the large ones – larger ones held themselves in place with glue more easily, these little buggers kept popping up.

The Klingon’s decals were almost all very small and easy to apply, with the exception of the large belly insignia and the forward torpedo launcher decoration – these are going onto very curved surfaces, and they don’t settle flat.  In both cases, some canopy glue convinced the edges to settle and hold into place.

 

This ends the most challenging aspect of this kit…and a challenge it certainly was.  In spite of these issues, once they’re done the models look really nice.  I usually judge this from the perspective of a 1-meter distance view, and at a meter, most of the detail can be seen, but not entirely resolved.  Because of this, some of the ripping fades away and the slight angular deficiencies also don’t appear.

The belly insignia always looked cool to me.  A little glue on this one made sure it wasn’t going anywhere.

The belly insignia always looked cool to me.  A little glue on this one made sure it wasn’t going anywhere.

At one meter it’s hard to make out the fault, but the silvering is quite obvious when you look close up. Decal solvent products are supposed to fix this, but this material just ignored every attempt I made.

At one meter it’s hard to make out the fault, but the silvering is quite obvious when you look close up. Decal solvent products are supposed to fix this, but this material just ignored every attempt I made.

Painting

Painting on the Federation ships was quite simple – a bit of duck-egg blue at the front of the engine nacelles, flat black slits for their “bussard collectors” also at the front of the nacelles.  Touches of clear red and clear green on the sides of the saucers for navigation lights (red right, green left).  Reliant also required some intermediate blue for the faces of its weapons modules, and some medium gray for the engineering trenches on top of the hull and the semi-triangular rear section beneath the hull (the instructions are pretty clear on these, at least).

Enterprise looking ready to launch here.

Enterprise looking ready to launch here.

The forward inboard and outboard ‘rounded’ sections of the intercoolers on the engine nacelles also got a dose of paint – for Enterprise I used flat black (which is a correction to the instructions, which wrongly say copper here), and copper for Reliant (which is correct in the instructions).  Touch ups were done with flat white, even over the decals, since tiny bits of white there are already expected.  I also used a dab of crystal clear blue where the warp crystal mounts appear (on top of the nacelles, just above the beginnings of the intercoolers).

Reliant ready

Reliant is hot on her tail.

The Klingon was more interesting to paint.  To start with, I need to post a correction of myself here:

In part 1 of this review, I stated “The Amar from TMP and Kronos 1 from ST6 both were more of a metallic grey on-screen” – that was flatly wrong.  I went back and reviewed the Klingon scene from TMP and The Undiscovered Country…in TMP, the Klingons are clearly a dark green with black and almost dusty-looking finish.  Kronos in TUC was a lighter grey with brownish and possibly a very faint hint of green (and I blame this for the contamination of my memory of TMP J).

Klingon Cruiser in ST:TMP

I stand corrected.  They were quite green in TMP.

Also note the “dusty” look of the ship here – they were very well weathered.

Also note the “dusty” look of the ship here – they were very well weathered.

Since this is a TMP Klingon, I went back and ‘greened it up’.  I re-sprayed the hull with a lighter green (what you use won’t matter in the details, so long as it’s a very light green with a little more brown than yellow you’re fine).  I then highlighted the rear hull’s raised sections with olive drab (same stuff I use for allied armor WW2 models) by hand with a very fine brush, using the kit instructions as a general guideline of where to apply the darker color.  I also used it on random partial bits of the ‘head’.  After the olive, I used crystal clear green to highlight a very few spaces on top of the rear hull, the top ‘nubs’ along the neck of the ship, the cooling grids on the engineering rear hull, the cooling grids above the engine nacelles on each wing, and the collector grids on the leading edges of the wings.

Some dark grey then went into the grid at the bottom base of the neck, and the same color applied to the disruptor ‘bumps’ (there are two under the bridge housing on the head, two on the underside of the forward corners of the wings, and two just beneath the engineering section on top of the rear of the hull).  A lighter grey went onto the forward grid ahead of the engineering section (top of the hull just behind the neck), leaving the two squarish raised portions in the original hull color.  Next, a dab of crystal clear red went where the upper and lower strobes on the neck are, and I filled in the forward impulse manifold (the part that you see glowing red), and a little line of it for the bridge windows.

After these were done, the ship looked particularly garish and ugly – but I was expecting that.  To blend the whole thing together I prepped a wash using 15 parts Vallejo dark grey wash, 10 parts water, three parts US Olive Drab, seven parts Gunship Green, and three parts crystal clear green.  I didn’t concoct this recipe ahead of mixing it, by the way, that’s just what I ended up using.  The idea was to make a nice wash that was a deep muddy green, and that mix is how I achieved it.

You can probably do it with a different mix.  I hit the entire model with this mix, and that blended all the colors in very well – took away the stark contrast and gave the ship a really nice “used” look.  I always felt Klingons weren’t afraid to dig in and fight, and their ships should show the look of that attitude.

Klingon, after wash applied

By darkening up the light base color of the hull with a common wash, all the heavier colors come together and blend better.

Finally, I used some streaking grime enamel to put some weathering marks on the hull and head, streaking back from the leading edges.  For those who haven’t used this sort of thing, it goes on as brownish lines where you want the “streaks” to be, and then with a clean brush dipped in thinner you lift away most of the streak, leaving behind a perceptible ‘streak’ of color that doesn’t overwhelm the paint scheme beneath it.

Once the paint was on, the decals followed, and it was all set!

Klingon - decals applied

The decals work really well on this color base – note the Klingon text is hard to see when it’s on paper, but is very clear on the model.

Basing

This kit comes with no base for any of these models, which I think is something of a mistake.  AMT didn’t have to go out on any big limbs to throw in a few simple bases for the ships, but they omitted them in the end.  So you, the builder, get to decide how to mount them.  The might make a good hanging display with some 2lb-test fishing line or magnet wire.

No bases, and though that’s an omission that the factory should have avoided, it’s easy enough to come up with some solutions.

No bases, and though that’s an omission that the factory should have avoided, it’s easy enough to come up with some solutions.

Personally, I’m going to pick up some cheap black picture frames from Ikea or somewhere and mount these on 2mm clear acrylic rods.  I’ll print some background scenes from the films and perhaps backlight the pictures with a 9V battery and an LED, and have the ships extended “out of the picture” mounted on the acrylic rods.

And my Klingon will be perpetually chased by V’Ger’s big plasma ball.

And my Klingon will be perpetually chased by V’Ger’s big plasma ball.

 

In Summary

Now that all three models in the kit are done, I have to say that they came out looking really, really good.  I was very concerned with the quality of the decals when I started applying them, that they would be ruinous to the finish of the models, but the mistakes made at the factory were fixable, if not easily so.  Compared to the time consumed in assembly / gluing / putty / primer, which was about 90 minutes, the decal work took about seven hours split into two sessions.  Painting was about another hour.

All three done!

About ten hours of fun putting this all together, and a really nice outcome!  I’m very much looking forward to putting these on frames.

Would I buy this kit, knowing what I know now?  Yep, I think so.  My daughter already asked me if she could have Reliant when I’m done, so I’d say it made an impression, and when I’m done with the picture-frame basing they’ll look really nice hanging on a wall (which is a nice change from a model kit that would otherwise have taken up more shelf-space).  They’d also make really nice game pieces if you play Firestorm Armada or Star Fleet Battles, or some other tabletop space game.

Would I give this kit to a kid to build?  Probably not, since the kid would be weeping after the decals fell apart.  I’d probably lean more towards the 1:600 Enterprise or Klingon D-7.  Pricing on those is similar to this, and those kits are more forgiving of error and mishandling.  Fortunately, given the subject matter for this kit is almost forty years old (yeah, I know, don’t we feel freaking ancient now?), I don’t imagine children are going to be lining up and asking for this for Christmas.

Let’s finish this with a numeric scale judgment on how this kit worked out, and give it a judgment based on the combined aspect score.  I’ll give each aspect a 1-10 (10 being best):

INSTRUCTIONS (clearly written, easy to follow?):  7

I would have given this an 8 or 9, but the instructions on the small decals were very insufficient, and the manufacturer’s claim that this was a snap-together kit on the box front was, I think misleading.

PARTS FIT AND ASSEMBLY (Were the parts cast well?  Not a ton of flash?  Not so many gaps?):  9

Parts in this kit were generally very well fitted, there was almost no flash to deal with, and what gaps did exist were easily dealt with.

DECALS or ORNAMENTATION (What decals were in the box?  Were they complete for finish of the model?  Did they fit well and were they easy to work with?):  7

For all of my bitching about the material, they were very complete, and extremely well designed.  The material they were made of, however, knocked the score to seven from what would have been a solid TEN.  AMT, take note of that.

So…a total score of 23 out of 30, not bad!  Average score is 7.66 out of 10, which is respectable, and I’d say definitely worth the cash.

Thanks for tuning in – and I’m looking forward to hearing your experiences in constructing these three little gems.  Send your comments in!

Once again I’d like to extend my thanks to Models4Hobby for providing the kit that was the subject of this build – check them out on Facebook too, they’re always posting updates!

Update

I mounted the Klingon on an inexpensive 5×7 picture frame today – she looks really good, but I’ll have to re-update the photo once I get some sunlight tomorrow.  Decided to forgo the lighting, this works just fine.  Here’s what I did:

  • Printed out a pic of the V’ger plasma weapon in flight, screenshot from TMP, set it in the frame.
  • Drilled a 2mm hole in the Klingon’s wing to accomodate the mount.
  • Drilled a matching 2mm hole in the frame side to accept the mount.
Use a manual pin vice, not an electric - you want to be very careful not to overdrill or get your angle wrong.

Use a manual pin vice, not an electric – you want to be very careful not to overdrill or get your angle wrong.

  • Using 2mm acrylic rod, I cut a piece to the right length and stuck them together on it.
  • I then softened the rod with a heat gun (use the fine emitter to avoid heating up the model) and bent it to about the right angle to position the ship.

 

 

 

 

Ta-Da!

The battlecruiser Amar caught in an eternal "Oh shit!" moment.

The battlecruiser Amar caught in an eternal “Oh shit!” moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update 2

Did the same thing using an 8×10 photo frame for Reliant and Enterprise to set them up at the beginning of the battle in the Mutara Nebula…at some point it might be worthwhile to go back and re-jigger the pictures in the background to make them more pronounced, but for now this will do :).

Full impulse power!  Damn you!

Full impulse power! Damn you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Part 1 of Cadet Series: TMP review can be found here)

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