1/12th X-Wing Part 3

Donors

As I mentioned in the first post, the project didn’t actually start with the fuselage. That came later; when Jason got the definitive castings for reference. Initially, the scope of the project was to model the rear donor plate and the top droid strip. Maybe some of the wing parts. Jason was going to sculpt the 1/12 body by hand or something, but he wanted a legitimate representation of the donor collages for the big model.

There are only about 50 donors needed for an X-Wing, and many of them I already had in the Falcon digital library. Then again, there are some real tricky parts – and we wanted to pay extra attention to them since they were going to be scaled up by double eventually. Anything that was modeled needed to A) look like the original part, and B) look great at a larger scale.

the digital donor catalog

Process-wise, it’s a lot of careful measuring with digital calipers and digital protractors. I have a height gauge I use as well. Sometimes printing things on paper and overlaying a part to verify angles-on-top-of-angles is the best approach. 3D printing parts is also helpful – but paper prototyping is remarkably effective.

There were a few parts that were trickier than most. The Hasegawa Sherman upper hull is featured both on the X-Wing and the Falcon. So, I wanted to model both the front half for this project, and the back half for the other. The nose of the hull has some very distinctive sculpting unique to the Hasegawa version which would become even more prominent at 2x scale.

While the Sherman is a tricky sculpt, the original part is crisp and has clear intent which makes mimicking it relatively easy. Then there are parts like the Monogram 1/32 PanzerspƤhwagen 232 8-Rad Transaxle. I probably spent more time on this single donor part than all the others combined (not really – but it felt like it). The original tooling is mushy, ill-defined and uses a multitude of different draft tapers (!?!), but within that lies the character of the part. I probably had a half-dozen false starts on this part before it started taking shape and feeling like the original. It was one of those where every time I measured something, I got a different result and no amount of standard deviation tracking seemed to fix it. It just never looked right.

Monogram transaxle on a makeshift jig ready to be scanned

In the end, I used a first generation Matter and Form laser scanner to capture the part and model it from there. Hobby-grade scanners aren’t great – but it did give me a consistent set of reference points in 3D space to keep track of what I was measuring, and from where. Consistency is key. It’s a deceptively organic part with a lot of surface interdependencies that if aren’t right, make the part lose its character.

just in case you’re wondering what a hobby-grade laser scanner gets you… not much on a small part.
the finished digital donor model rendering

I feel like it got pretty close in the end. There are still some bits that don’t quite resolve the same as the original. Hopefully they aren’t too noticeable.

Collages

When working digitally, we can chop and crop all the donors to size and assemble to ensure things fit. Often this is our first line of defense on error correction. I mentioned this on the Ferrari 512b engine post – the digital model assembles in the same wonky way as the original kit – which lets me know I did it right. Eventually these got printed as single part assemblies.

And of course, all the while, Jason was test printing and providing feedback as we went.

And yes, we have rear plates for Red Two, Red Three, and Red Five in CAD – which are all different.

Haynes Rebel Starfighters?

Around this time, Chris Reiff caught wind of our project. We started working with him, and a our digital donors were used in the illustrations. Jason and I even got a credit at the end of the book! If you don’t have it yet get it – it’s a lovely edition to add to your collection!

pew pew

1/12th X-Wing Part 2

The process we’ve been using on this X-Wing (and the Falcon) allows us to really fine-tune the forms to get as close as possible to the original model(s) as we probably could without laying a ruler on the darn thing. We have enough data just through photography these days to determine subtle irregularities and asymmetries.

The X-Wings were all different. They were cast off the same masters, but then hand finished. The scribed panel lines are obviously (and intentionally) asymmetrical, but also different from Red Two, to Red Three, Four, and Five and so on. In addition, the Pyro models are fabricated completely differently than the Hero models. We made sure not to reference them too closely.

Along the way we needed to make some decisions about how to handle asymmetries.

I shared the above image in a previous post, but if we look at the other side…

… a couple things become apparent. We can see how much further back the torpedo tube is on the starboard side. The torpedo tubes are all over the place from ship to ship. They are in the CAD as shown, but we left them out of the castings so they can be fabricated with brass inserts like the originals and positioned to Jason’s liking.

When it came to detailing the canopy frames, the port side and starboard sides are quite different as well.

We liked how the starboard side forms were resolved, so that became our gold standard for both sides.

There are other minor discrepancies in the form, but these were most egregious. It’s sometimes hard to tell what was in the original master, what happened during sanding and finishing, and what is just a result of age. Across every reference we had, we saw a distinct curve along the belt line from nose to tail. Is this just age? The fuselage drooping after years of being suspended under one G of load? Or was this something that was in the master pattern? Regardless, this nuance is in ours.

The noses are very different from model to model. Some are truncated, like Red Three. Others have a more swept back look, like Red Five. We chose to make ours swept back – but with enough material for the future castings to remove material to accurately represent either. This is similar to what was done originally in ’76 we think. I really love this bit of sculpture.

Willfully ignoring the asymmetries of the originals models probably disqualifies these models as replicas (at least in 1/24th) scale. I struggle with the same decisions on the Falcon – to idealize or not is a challenging question. At then end of the day, it’ll never be perfectly imperfect – at best, we’ll introduce our own imperfections and character.

1/12th X-Wing Part 1

Like any good story, I’ll start in the middle. As the project went chronologically we started modeling donors long before working on the fuselage, but this story probably makes more sense starting with our reconstruction of the major shapes of the iconic ship.

Laser scanning original fuselage castings 2018

Scanning Data

Jason had received a couple original ILM castings and this would be one of our primary starting points. We also had v5 casings from Mike Salzo as well as a mountain of vintage photographs of the original models. Getting digital representations of each of these assets was the first step to resurfacing the fuselage.

hero casting laser scan model
pyro casting laser scan model
v5 photogrammetry model

Unfortunately, the ancient castings had seen better days, and they were very warped and distorted. I was able to “undistort” them to certain extent, but doing this would probably result in some unintended stretching giving us a false reference.

the pyro and hero scans compared showing the warping in the vintage parts

After some digital tweaking, I had a composite of the three different reference files that could be used as surface reference. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a good start.

composite of all our scanned data (orange = hero, blue = pyro, green & purple = v5)

Tracking Points

The scan data was great, but not stellar. So, Andre pulled another trick out of his hat. We had about 90 photos of Red Three that Jason had taken. They we’re roughly shot as a turntable sequence, so Andre ran the sequence through 3D tracking software to produce a series of points-in-space that became another point of reference.

I was able to bring the tracking points into my CAD packages (Alias, Fusion 360, and Maya) as additional reference to supplement the laser and photogrammetry data.

This whole process of gathering data and compositing it in 3D space took a good chunk of the first year. All along we were refining our workflow and coming up with new ways of using it to better affect.

Surfacing

As we collected the above reference data, I was concurrently surfacing the fuselage in Alias. By the end of the project we had three generations of surface CAD each with a dozen iterations as we gained a better understanding of the nuance of the fuselage. Honestly, I really underestimated the subtleties of the ship having seen blockier models in the past. The body of the X-Wing is quite shapely, and clearly hand-carved. A beautiful piece of sculpture – until you need to replicate it in CAD.

a second attempt at the main body in Alias with the pyro scan as an underlay

By the time I had gotten to the third generation fuselage model, we had introduced a new step in the modeling process. We had the scan data, and the 3D tracking points, but now we were round-tripping the model back into into the scene we used to track the 3D data points as a way to verify what I was modeling was lining-up to the original reference. This approach let me model, tweak, and test across a dataset of nearly 100 different images to determine how accurate I was being with the surfacing. We got pretty close – asymmetries in the original model not withstanding. Andre and I have started using this same technique to divine the exact curvature of the Falcon’s domes and has improved our solves greatly.

3D model remapped to tracked camera data and overlaid on top of source photography.

While there were other aspects of the X-Wing that were also being worked on simultaneously, the “final” master surfaces took us just over a year nail down; from August 2018 to about December 2019 working an hour or two a night here and there; a near constant back and forth between CAD, scans, and photo-matching to get it just right.

final fuselage surfaces

Of course, along the way, Jason was printing full-sized (i.e. 1/24th scale) models to verify the surface data as we went. First in low resolution FDM prints, then eventually in higher resolution SLA prints… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

1/12th X-Wing Prologue

A couple years ago, Jason Eaton approached Andre and I with an idea. It went something like – you know the big (and kind of wonky) X-Wing that was built for Jedi but never filmed? What if we made an exact replica of the as-shot hero models from A New Hope – but at twice the size!

A true 1/12th scale X-Wing based on the 1/24th scale filming models.

It seemed a reasonable ask. There are only a handful of greebles on the ship – probably a hundredth of what’s on the Falcon. The wings are kind of slabby. Sure why not? How hard could it be. Ha.

Over the next several posts, I’ll recap what we’ve been working on. Yes, the Falcon is still in progress – and I’ll post some updates about that – but let us sidetrack for a bit.

Lancaster

Finally got my Lancaster kits, so my docking ring end cap CAD model is complete. Also trying out Maya’s Arnold renderer to render raw styrene plastic. I usually render stuff in KeyShot, but I like playing with new toys…

Tamiya 1-12 Ferrari 312B Engine assembly

Sometimes, when modeling donor kits, I realize that the parts I’m digitizing actually make something other than a Millennium Falcon… Most of the engine parts from Ferrari 312B are used. Assembling them digitally was a cool way of cross-checking that my parts are accurate. All the little gaps and misalignments in the original plastic parts are a good test of accuracy…