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.
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.
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.