1/12th X-Wing Part 6

Just making a bigger X-Wing was only part of the project. We started with Studio Scale replicas, then were going to make it bigger, yes – but as Jason says – just making it bigger as-is would make it look like a toy. We needed to up-detail the bigger model to make it feel comfortable in its new skin.

Jason lead the way; detailing the rear collage and setting the tone for other bits. He took the rear plate into Rhino and started tweaking and adding things. Stripping bits and replacing them with other bits.

The goal was clear; to add things in such a away that at a distance, the highlights and shadows of the greebles, detail, and form would read the same as the 1/24th, however, upon getting closer – zooming in, if you will – you’d see things that maybe were lost to soft focus.

It took me a while to get a “feel” for this art. I was in uncharted waters. Suddenly this went from replicate to design. This new dimension has been quite entertaining.

Engines

First up was the Airfix Saturn V bodies on the engine nacelles. This was a good starting exercise because it made me think differently about what up-detailing really means.

The Airfix part has 42 “shingles” around the front and rear quarters of the tube. These faceted forms were injection molding short-hand for a much richer corrugated detail seen on the Saturn V. We thought reintroducing the corrugated feature would be a nice way to add richness. Forty-two facets, forty-two corrugated ribs, right?

But it didn’t work. The up-and-down shape of the ribs added extra highlights and shadows to the form that made the features feel denser, not just more detailed. This wouldn’t pass the at a distance test. We’d have to halve the number of ribs because each rib was both a crest and trough.

Twenty-two ribs felt more like the original. Different, but similar, and it worked at a distance like we wanted. We kept CAD of 1/24th scale X-Wing parts at 2x in our working files for reference to constantly compare the visual fidelity of what was being invented for the bigger model.

The next part would be from the Revell 1/32 US McDonnell Douglas Phantom II. The thrust nozzles from this kit were under-detailed to begin with, and would be doubly so at 2x (I know math!). We looked a lot of real-world J-79 nozzles to gain inspiration. But these 1/32 nozzles were on a 1/24th scale model being scaled up-to 1/12. Just going straight 1/32 at 2x would feel oddly delicate. So we needed to make the details a bit beefier than what we saw in real-world reference photos of Phantom aircraft. Also, this is Incom, not McDonnell Douglas. Ha.

this was work-in-progress as we started to gain our footing on the design.
We didn’t touch the AAVID heatsink as it seemed to feel “right” in context of the new turkey feathers

The Revell Phantom J-79 engines make-up the main gnarly-looking part of the X-Wing engine. At 1/32 scale they aren’t bad detail-wise and work pretty well at double the scale. The main things were that A) the actuator rods that run down the length could have more detail and should “float” off the main housing more, and B) the ILM versions were spliced together from two back-halves – making them oddly mirrored, but yet not really – so we wanted to make the engines feel less like they were cut from the same part, and more like they were intentionally one-piece, front-to-back.

All together, Saturn + Phantom, things were looking pretty tight.

According to the Incredible Cross-Sections of Star Wars: The Ultimate Guide to Star Wars Vehicles and Spacecraft, the T-65B X-Wing fighter utilizes differential thrust from its four powerful fusial ion engines. High-mass electromagnetic gyroscopes in each of its forward-facing retro-thrusters add a turning effect that helps to swing the ship in tight curves. Precise bursts of of retro-thrust fire forward through the turbine nozzles to add further control.

Or something like that. But they also have a cool diagram of the engine. In particular, the front part – which looks like an intake, but is actually a retro-thrust nozzle. They did a good job a making sure that the front part of the engine didn’t look like it was housing spinning turbines like we’d see in this end of our galaxy. We didn’t want to make that same mistake (ahem T-70).

We’ve seen similar cross-sections of X-Wing engines in a variety of books and blueprints – but not in the models. The Studio Scale models are just flat-bottomed cylinders. Clearly this was a 1/12 scale opportunity to pay homage to these other interpretations.

In the spirit of adding detail, but not new features, this pushes those boundaries – but the overall effect is subtle when seen in the bigger context. It also evokes the spirit of the dragsters these ships are meant to be.

Designed for being made

Of course, we weren’t CAD-ing all this just for pretty pictures. We are thinking about how to make this stuff for real. The last part of the engine design was to do the basic part break-ups to be printed and assembled. This cross-section shows how we planned to tackle the engine builds starting with an aluminum backbone to keep the whole thing from sagging, and Neo-pixel light rings that can be animated for display.

The whole thing is built around a 22 mm Aluminum tube. The rear nozzles are about 60 mm in diameter – that’s like a can of Coke. They are monsters.

1/12th X-Wing Part 5

So far on this journey to a 1/12th scale X-Wing, we’ve been working on a 1/24th scale version that replicates much of the original studio scale models as possible (or desirable). There were a few more things that we needed to do before we made the “jump” to 2x.

Panel Lines

Jason has used a technique in the past (he’s a Rhino user) where he extrudes tubes along the surface of a model and subtracts them from the main form to create scribe lines. It’s a fairly good digital analog of a largely hand hewn detail.

I leveraged this technique for the 1/24th fuselage (and eventually wings) like so.

Here is the base model as we’ve seen it so far.

I love this image above – just the web of panel lines in space.

And one subtracted from the other. Because of the parametric history in Fusion, these are fairly “quick” to change an update all things being relative. It’s still a lot of lines – over 300individual elements if I remember.

Part Breaks

One of the last things we did before making the jump to 1/12th scale was break everything up for printing. This happened in two steps (three if you include a totally failed first attempt which might be in an ancillary bloopers post at some point).

Above are the “macro splits”. The major chunks that represent the major parts that will get cast and assembled into the final model. Jason wanted the model to be compatible with the v5 armature – but we made some secondary machining operations to accommodate the cockpit – and even then, the pilot is cut-off below the thigh – like a classic Tamiya F1 driver.

However, before we can even get to the macro-break-up version, we had to subdivide the model down into even smaller bits that could be printed. Above is half a fuselage in three segments. This is about 30-40 hours of printing at 50 microns in Grey Pro resin on Jason’s Form 2.

Huzzah! Some hundred hours of printing later, little bits to big bits!

From the assembled SLA masters (above), come the polyurethane castings (below). I’m really looking forward to seeing these finished-out as a full fleet!

Project Management

This was a fairly big project with a lot of things to track. Jason, Andre and I used Slack to keep things on task. Over the two years, we sent 8,000 messages and shared nearly 2,000 files and photos back and forth. As I’ve mentioned, most all the CAD was done in Fusion 360, and we used the collaboration tools there to maintain version control, and have eyes on what was happening during development.

This isn’t unlike what we’ve been doing on the Falcon – although the Falcon Slack workspace is well over 30,000 messages and counting. We’ve done several hundred revisions on the CAD for that model with Sean Sides‘ build validating many of our assumptions, and now Stu Brown’s build vetting the next generation. The scale and complexity of the Falcon is far greater than the X-Wing.

Of course, there are still a few outstanding items on the X-Wing project, but still plenty to talk about too. Next post we’ll make the jump to 1/12th scale!

1/12th X-Wing Part 4

With the fuselage surfacing done, and the main greeble collages done, I roughed-in the wings. Having 1/12th scale wing donors wasn’t mission critical at this point because Jason wanted to get a few 1/24th scale birds under his wing before making the jump to 2x, and the studio scale wings are mostly brass tubing and sheet stock peppered with donors that are less rare than most.

Cockpit

We did, however, start lamenting how the original studio scale models had dodgy cockpits. Naturally, if we’re gonna make the jump to 1/12th scale, the cockpit should be featured as-seen-on-screen. I had experience with modeling the Falcon cockpit so I had a pretty good idea what a Star Wars cockpit entailed. But once again, this was an underestimation. The ANH Falcon is largely the same half-dozen switches and lights arranged in non-uniform grids. Yeah – there are some vent thingies, and other greebles, but they are few compared to the repeated bits. Not so on the X-Wing.

I started with the seat. It’s pretty organic, but not unlike the Falcon buckets; another third-party after-market sports car seat. My Falcon buckets were modeled in Alias using NURBS surfacing techniques. Since then I’ve switched to Fusion 360 for a lot of things – so this seat was done using T-Spline sculpting. Arguably, these types of things could be done in Blender, or Maya, or some other sub-d poly modeler, but having a manufacturing background, I embrace CAD tools that have infinite resolution and scale easily. I keep encouraging Jason to go full-scale with this. Ha.

The seat went quickly and was done in an evening. Then I realized what I got myself into. Dang, there’s a lot going on in this thing. And of course – there were two different filming versions – one in the Yavin hangar, and the other that was used on a gimbal for the trench run. Similar but not identical. We eventually cherry picked the best bits of each for an “idealized” X-Wing cockpit that captured the spirit of both.

Next the greebles got their rough-ins; getting a sense of overall proportion and layout, working big to little, constantly referencing archival photos. This was all being done at 1/24th scale to fit the existing fuselage model. We’ll scale it up later.

Little-by-little it started to fill in. I worked front-to-back; filling in the instrument cluster and dash area.

Working with the pinstripes directly in the CAD file was something I also did on the Falcon. It helps to properly space elements and get things to line-up (or not line-up as the case usually is with these set pieces) as they should. It’s largely a proportion game – like and artist holding up their thumb to gauge relative scales of things at different distances.

Image reference for the side panels was very limited, but I think we got close. Scale was sometimes hard to determine. For instance, the white “chicklet” keys are typically one inch, but the blue ones along the sides appear to be smaller and closer to 3/4 inch. Fuzzy photos can only reveal so much. The above shot also shows how we only modeled the upper back of the seat. On the studio scale models, the armature prohibits having a full depth cockpit. I’ll show more of this in the next post.

As I came around to the bits behind the seat, I jumped back into Alias to layout all the hoses. I just like the way Alias handles free-form 3D splines and hope that one-day Fusion 360 will be on par with Alias for this type of thing. We also started making some editorial decisions here. One of the most visible differences between the two live-action set pieces are the Trench Run cockpits don’t have the pneumatic piston’s to open the canopy. There are some greebles that compete for real-estate here, and so we had to make some hard choices about what to leave on the cutting-room floor so to speak.

Back in Fusion, I continued with the detailing of the rear cavity greebles.

Sometimes when working on this stuff I get fascinated by a specific part. That Monogram transaxle was one – this funny little circuitboard-looking thing shown above was another. It’s tucked way in the back of the cockpit like two little bug-eyes.

The targeting computer was one of the last things to model. Again, not a ton of good reference for it, but we had already built some of the greebles elsewhere in the cockpit, could use them as reference for a few of the unknown greebles, and we build-out from there. Everything’s a yardstick eventually.

And of course, a few beauty renders of the completed cockpit…

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…