IPMS Silverwings Judging Standards and Best Practices

Statement About IPMS Silverwings Contest Judging Standards and Best Practices


Art Silen     IPMS #1708

My name is Art Silen, and in addition to being President of IPMS Silverwings, I am also our Chief Judge at our annual SilverCon contests. The following statement of our club’s judging standards is entirely my own. Having judged model contests going back to the late 1960s, and a member of IPMS/USA since February, 1967, I believe that this statement is a fair summary of how we interpret and apply contemporary judging standards for model contests sponsored by our club.

My first foray into writing about contest judging appeared in an IPMS Update, Volume 22, No. 4, in February, 1967. That was twenty years after I first joined the national organization, and now, 27 years after that, I am writing about it again.

Judging Based Upon National Judging Standards Developed By IPMS/USA, as Interpreted by Local Rules and Practice

IPMS National Judging Standards, as developed and reissued from time to time by IPMS/USA generally apply to IPMS Silverwings’ SilverCon model contests, but which are interpreted and applied in accordance with this Policy Statement.

Local chapters within the IPMS/USA national organization enjoy a great deal of autonomy in the manner in which national judging standards are understood, interpreted, and applied in local contests. National contests are judged by a Chief Judge and a staff of Assistant Judges, each of whom has been certified as having long experience and knowledge about the subject matter, and unquestioned expertise regarding every phase of modeling and model presentation.

Judging in local contests is mostly done by volunteers of varying levels of experience and aptitude. Judging in Silverwings’ contests is done by veteran judges having solid and long-established reputations for sound judgment and integrity. Newer members of the club are strongly encouraged to serve as judges both at our own contests and elsewhere within this region so that we are able to field a solid corps of experienced judges at our contests. We also provide instruction and training.

We also encourage participation in judging by by modelers representing most or all of the participating model clubs within the region. We do this to ensure that the entire cadre of judges participating in our event fairly represents the experience and knowledge prevalent throughout this region, which includes Northern California and Northern Nevada. Most of those representative members have long experience in judging.

 Additionally, we strongly encourage our members and those of other model clubs judging with us to broaden their experience by judging categories of models that they might not build on their own. Some categories of models are greatly oversubscribed, such as aircraft and military vehicles. Modelers who compete in their favorite categories in our contests are not permitted to judge those categories, as there is an obvious conflict of interest in doing so. Cross training and experience in less familiar categories, such as automobiles and science fiction / fantasy broadens a Judge’s knowledge and experience, and is likely to give him insights into the art and skill of judging that he might not discover any other way.

It is my job, therefore, as IPMS Silverwings’ President and SilverCon’s Chief Judge, to ensure that participating judges from our club, and from associated model clubs that are participating in the contest, are familiar with the standards that we apply.

Efficient Use of Time and Resources

Typically, and this observation applies to most other local or area model contests, the Chief Judge and his staff operate under time constraints that differ markedly from National contests. Whereas at national contests judges may devote an entire evening, perhaps four to six hours, to complete their work, in most cases we have no more than two hours before the contest results must be submitted and collated, and awards handed out. That means that judging teams and those that assemble and report the results of the contest need to act quickly and efficiently. With typically more than 30 categories of models to judge, and frequently augmented by special awards and splits within categories, time is at a premium. Efficient time use requires judges to prioritize their evaluation criteria and focus on the essentials of getting the job done quickly, consistently, and above all, fairly. Every competitor is entitled to full and fair consideration of his model, for whatever time it takes to consider the merits and demerits of that model against all others within that model’s particular contest category.

Judging ‘The Basics’

The image that many people have of model contests typically shows judges at work with small flashlights, and sometimes dental mirrors, closely scrutinizing the models within their judging category. This is largely an accurate picture, but it is only the beginning of the story.

The IPMS national standard focuses on what the organization terms as ‘the basics’, and the operative statement in the official Guidelines reads as follows:

Throughout the judging process, the first and most important things the judges consider are the basics. The judges first identify models that exhibit flaws in basic construction and finishing and then through a series of “cuts”, eliminate entries with flaws. They continue narrowing the field until the winners have been decided. Only when the basics don’t allow for a clear-cut ranking do the judges begin to look deeper. As a modeler works on his model, he should keep in mind that the level of workmanship should be consistent throughout the model. In other words, the modeler who adheres to the basics throughout his model will be judged more favorably than one who does not. It’s not ok to detail the cockpit but not blank off the engine intakes because that’s “not as important”. With the basics, it is all important.

The Guidelines go on to include several pages of information regarding what constitute ‘the basics’ within different types of model categories. That detailed guidance must be read in conjunction with the fundamental requirement that ‘the basics’ are the fundamental bedrock of contest judging. The Guidelines also state that the level of workmanship should be consistent throughout the model.

‘The basics’ of model competition have been known for generations. Seamless construction, removal of blemishes from the model’s outer surface, appropriate orientation of all visible components, such as wheels, vehicle tracks, inter-plane struts, tail empennage, wing dihedral, and so on. It is surprising, and often disheartening, to see otherwise well done model spoiled by essential components going off at odd angles due to poor planning and indifferent execution. As frequently happens, many of these models were completed at the last minute, which is when mistakes most frequently occur.

Whether a particular model in a competition accurately represents a real aircraft, military vehicle, ship, or anything else we do not decide as part of any judgment. Neither do we judge whether a model’s finishing our paintwork accurately represents the original. In either case, there are far too many variables to consider, and most judges’ knowledge about such things is too far removed from the original source knowledge to be relied upon. These are matters on which qualified experts are known to disagree.

Display Bases

Military vehicles are often displayed on bases which can range from a simple wooden plaque to a detailed vignette seen replete with roadwork, vegetation, and evidence of habitation, i.e. directional signs, telephone poles, cobblestones, and the like. The general rule has been that unadorned bases will not be considered as part of the judging; but, if the modeler elects to ‘open the door’ by providing his model with a base that indicates that the model is intended to depict the original vehicle at a hypothetical place and time in the past so that it looks like an actual scene, the entire presentation will be judged as if it were part of the modeler’s entry into the contest. The modeler cannot have it both ways, submitting his model on an elaborately prepared base while at the same time claiming that the base should constitute no part of the model’s evaluation. The judges will not be asked to pretend that they didn’t see what they did, when the modeler made that presentation his deliberate choice.

No Picking Up Models to View Underside

Not infrequently, modelers will display a model set up on a mirror, so that the judges can view the underside of that model without having to pick it up. As a general rule, and at variance with the practice at IPMS National competitions, there is a strict rule against picking up a model in order to examine its underside. Over the course of many years, numerous models, representing long hours of painstaking work, have been damaged by judges who picked the model up, and in the course of replacing it to its original position caused it damage. If the modeler wants the judges to actually see the underside, he is at liberty to contact the Chief Judge or members of the judging team and inform them of his desire, but he picks the model up, and not they.

Misalignments; Built-in and Added-on

Much of what frequently becomes identified as a competition-ending deficiency occurs early on in the assembly process. If the modeler has not consistently checked to see that everything lines up properly, the error becomes built into the model and becomes uncorrectable. As frequently happens, road wheels on track vehicles are frequently misaligned during the construction process, making the completed vehicle impossible to line up properly when completed. On multi-wing aircraft, inter-plane struts are frequently misaligned resulting in visible differences in the way in which upper and lower wings present when the model is completed. Tail planes are frequently misaligned because the modeler did not take the trouble to check his alignments early on. Landing gear struts and assemblies quite frequently go off in different directions, and the attached wheels are frequently toed in or splayed out. It is all very obvious, and so unnecessary.

Because misalignments are frequently obvious and easy to detect, there the first order of business for any judging team. In the vast majority of instances, misalignments can be detected visually at normal viewing distances of two to three feet. Determining whether a model’s wheels or landing gear are all touching the tabletop is accomplished to the simple expedient of slipping a sheet of paper underneath the model until it meets resistance. That would not be available if the model has been installed on a prepared or textured base, but the trade-off is that the judges will consider the base as part of the model if it appears that the topography of the base is intended to simulate a piece of ground, in which circumstance some degree of environmental weathering on the model itself would be expected to be shown. As always, the modeler has the ultimate choice as to how his model will be displayed in the contest, but those choices have consequences based upon the situation that the model and the base together would seem to imply based upon their compositional elements alone.

At the other end of the scale are those elements that are added on to a model toward the end of the project. Typically, these items include landing gear struts, wheels, and various types of external ordnance, or if on a vehicle, various add-ons the modeler wants to include to complete a scene. It is at this stage that boredom and fatigue, and an intense desire to get the project done and over with sabotage the modeler at his most vulnerable moment. The result is almost invariably the same — good work spoiled.

Sometimes it cannot be helped. Gravity will sometimes distort soft plastic struts, and repaired damage from accidental bumps and jarring can rarely be so successfully done that no evidence of the breakage can be discerned. As with athletes, there comes a time when it’s time to retire from competition, and in this sense, modeling is no different.

‘Weathering’ and Environmental Effects Require Consistency, Balance, and Realism

‘Weathering’  is essentially an artistic rendering or interpretation of environmental effects within and operationally deployed vehicle or aircraft, and is not a requirement. That said,  most modelers include these environmental effects if they are depicting a modeling subject that is in active service or use.

For example, with respect to aircraft, the Guidelines state that weathering, if present, should show concern for scale, be in accordance with the conditions in which the real aircraft was operating and its age and be consistent throughout the model. The Guidelines for armor and military vehicles state essentially the same requirement, that if the modeler has chosen to include environmental effects and depiction of operational usage, those effects should be consistent throughout the model and be in accordance with the conditions of how and where the real vehicle was operating.

The same considerations apply to models that attempt to portray as much interior detail as possible. Interior detail that cannot be seen from normal viewing distances will not be considered; but, as with highly detailed bases that depict a real-world situation, if the modeler opens an access hatch or other aperture that allows interior viewing from the outside, the quality of the work inside the model will most likely be considered as part of the judging process. Many modelers take a great deal of time and effort to re-create interior portions of aircraft or armored vehicles that they intend to have the judges evaluate as part of the contest, but the test is whether the feature that is being depicted can be readily observed without having to pick the model up or turn it over, or to have to illuminate the interior of the model with a flashlight.

Aftermarket Parts and Components; Purchased Authenticity versus Modeler’s Personal Efforts

There is a thriving industry in aftermarket features and components that allow modelers to refine their models so that they more closely resemble their original subjects. This is entirely legitimate, as authenticity in replication of original features is a long sought-after goal of every modeler. Aftermarket products should never be mistaken for the modeler’s personal efforts, and if a fair equivalence of result can be made between a model utilizing commercial aftermarket features, i.e., resin castings and photo-etch metal, and the modeler’s own efforts through scratchbuilding, the judges should prefer the result the modeler achieved through his personal efforts. No one should be able to buy his way into a contest award. What we are saying is that a modeler cannot subcontract his work out to a commercial vendor if he wants to claim that his work goes beyond the results he could have achieved with the kit he bought from the local or on-line hobby shop. In many cases, aftermarket products are greatly superior to the scratchbuilding talents of most modelers, but the mere fact that they were used should not change the basic preference in the contest to showcase the results achieved by the modeler’s own skills and efforts.

That said, however, some common aftermarket products are so ubiquitous that not to use them does put the modeler at a disadvantage from a practical standpoint. Aftermarket cockpits that can be assembled and inserted into a variety of kits are relatively inexpensive, and the cost in time and effort to achieve a comparable result is ‘penny wise and pound foolish’. Multiple copies of hand-crafted components will inevitably be dimensionally at variance with one another, and the judges will notice. We build kits because going through the hassle of cutting and shaping wooden components defeats all but the most dedicated modelers nowadays. For that reason, scratchbuilding is no longer viable as a standard contest category for judging purposes for the simple reason that there are so few contest entrants at the local level who could genuinely qualify.

Bottom line, modelers are not required to utilize aftermarket parts or anything other than the commercially manufactured model kit that they are building and painting;  but their work is judged solely on whether they meet or exceed the minimum standards set down in ‘the basics’; and the more they do, the more they are likely to be judged on those ‘extras’ they put into a model to give it distinction and realism.

One final comment. There are many modelers, among them myself, who do their own resin casting to make their own ‘aftermarket’ components, start to finish, utilizing casting masters made by themselves. That is scratchbuilding by definition. The same rule applies to those who do their own photo-etch design and manufacture, and modelers who make their own custom-design decals. Nowadays, with 3-D printing coming on line as a logical extension of object replication technology, we will treat something as being scratchbuilt if the modeler can show the judges his original master or decal drawings or masks as proof of his personal efforts and accomplishment.

In point of fact there is a specific competition category, known as Out Of The Box (OOB) that is reserved for entrants who do not want to make the additional investment in aftermarket products that might be necessary to correct or enhance the kit materials that the manufacturer provided.

Beyond that, modelers are free to do whatever they wish, using any sort of material that they deemed to be suitable to enliven their presentation or to create a heightened sense of authenticity. They will, however, be judged on their results based upon the established judging criteria that do not award extra credit for having used exotic materials. Taking an older kit, and through hard work and solid performance improving its presentation will be rewarded if the results comply with ‘the basics’ judging criteria. Recently manufactured kits tend to be much better engineered than their counterparts of maybe 25 or 30 years ago, and judges know that; but a claim that a modeler “created a silk purse from a sow’s ear” works only if the modeler has gotten ‘the basics’ right.

‘Beaten Before They Could Start’; Why Modelers Defeat Themselves Before the Contest Begins

Most modelers’ two worst enemies are boredom and fatigue. Boredom causes modelers to focus primarily on the parts of the model they like to build and leaving the rest up to chance. Fatigue sets in where the modeler has undertaken a lengthy project loaded up with small repetitive tasks; and at a certain point impatience and resentment set in which, if left unchecked, are likely to degrade or diminish all of the good work that he did up to that point. There is also a tendency, when a major contest is coming around to hurry things along in order to be ready for the contest. That’s another recipe for disaster. Rushed work is sloppy work, and the modeler who is excited to be able to present his model at the contest will have ample opportunity to regret having rushed things along. Better that the modeler swallow his pride and put his model aside to be entered in a future contest, confident that his ‘punchlist’ for completing that model in accordance with ‘the basics’ was properly done.

Looking for Omitted Details from the Modeler’s Overall Presentation as a Tie-breaker

Modelers will sometimes overlook those parts of their projects in which they might not have a particular interest in replicating. That would be a mistake. I frequently tell new or relatively inexperienced judges to focus on that aspect of the model they are judging where the modeler has apparently displayed the least amount of interest, and comparing that feature with the part of the model where he focused his greatest efforts. If there is a discernible gap in the way the model presents, the model is unbalanced. ‘The basics’ require that a model’s presentation must be consistent throughout.

How do we know if the  modeler let things slide? If, for example,  we see a vehicle situated on a base that includes a dirt road together with dismounted soldiers, and the simulated dirt road includes no vehicular tire tread marks or caterpillar tracks , and no indication of soldier footprints along the line of advance, the answer is quite obvious. There is a logical relationship between the armored vehicle on a dirt road, ‘on the move’ as it were, and some evidence where it has been. It is a correlative, the same way that light and shadow are correlatives in painting. If the modeler has chosen to portray his model in this setting, he has implicitly accepted responsibility to account for what might naturally be expected. This type of omission is no different than any other lapse in attending to basic modeling requirements.

How We Apply Those Factors Constituting ‘The Basics’

Within the roughly two hours or so that are generally available for judging a contest, we need to make the most of the time we have to complete our task. Otherwise, attendees and others become restless, and the judging staff is scrambling to assemble and collate the results of the contest. When that happens, mistakes are made, with the inevitable result that people go away from the contest unhappy. That is to be avoided if at all possible.

Because we do not have the luxury of unlimited time to do exhaustive analyses and comparisons between competing models both within their respective categories and special awards, such as the “Theme Award”, I expect the contest judges to use their time the most efficient way they can.

The National Guidelines do not differentiate between the kinds of ‘flaws’ that are of such magnitude as to disqualify a model completely from the running, or those that are relatively minor in comparison with the level of accomplishment that the modeler has demonstrated. Long ago, IPMS’ national organization decided against using a point system for scoring National model contests, and we do not use one either. Numerical scoring a model’s construction and alignment, paintwork and finishing, and ‘extras’ may be helpful in crystalizing the thinking and judgment in order to make quick, meaningful comparisons between models regarding their particular attributes, but there is nothing magical about a number, and the numbers themselves are meaningless.  Likewise, we have no meaningful way of giving specific numerical weight to minor ‘defects’ or missteps in construction, paintwork, and finishing, unless any one of the is sufficiently obvious to be disqualifying. What counts is the quality of the work as a whole, and that is precisely what the IPMS National rules say.

Neither ‘the basics’, nor any single statement within those Guidelines are an excuse or license to engage in unreasonable or malicious nitpicking. We exist to serve the modeling community and to set an example for probity, integrity, and responsible behavior in evaluating and highlighting the work of other modelers. Nothing is more detrimental to this hobby than to have a claque of know-it-all’s throwing their weight around for the sake of their own ego satisfaction. It’s not about us; it is all about our fellow modelers and the modeling community at large.

My rule of thumb is if some sort of dissonance or defect is immediately observable without having to use a flashlight, that may be considered a ‘major flaw’ that may be disqualifying if none of the other models in competition with that model also exhibit that same flaw. A model exhibiting a poorly done paint job gains no advantage over a model with obvious construction defect that is otherwise well painted and well presented. We don’t differentiate between types of observable defects that would ordinarily be considered disqualifying, and those that are not, and we don’t play favorites.

Typically, misalignments of wheels, tracks, tail empennage, and the like are unlikely to be classified as minor flaws, because that is the first thing we look for. Likewise, a scruffy paint job or poorly laid decals showing extensive silvering, indicating poor adhesion and trapped air beneath the decal film, are major flaws.

A ‘minor flaw’ is one that appears only on close examination, and one which is not obvious on first glance, and the test is usually how quickly the judges are able to home in on it. A relatively insignificant misalignment (i.e., not readily apparent)  must be weighed against comparable issues the judges might have with the other models they are judging. Typically we see this where where the outer paintwork on the model is generally acceptable, but where the primer undercoat has some small portion of it poorly laid or inadequately smoothed over, like a dip or depression at a seam joint that was filled at some point but leaving some observable remnant.

Perhaps the most frequently observed ‘minor’ defect I have observed on models, particularly aircraft, but it can pertain to models of any sort, are gaps between clear plastic cockpit canopies, cabin enclosures, clear panels and windows, and the surrounding portions of the model. I also see this frequently on military vehicles to an equally large extent. Interestingly enough, I rarely observe this defect among modelers who specialize in automobiles. Part of the problem comes from the fact that cockpit canopies are typically attached after all painting and decaling have been completed as part of final assembly. Maybe so, but the mismatch between the clear parts and the remainder of the model are obvious to anyone at first glance.

Then too, there is the problem of seeing the clear parts frost over if the modeler uses too much glue. My answer would be, use less cement, and apply what you do with a very fine brush.

As for the gaps, there are numerous ways to fill the seam lines using super-thin CA glue or clear acrylic paint or modeling paste available at local artists supply shops.

Contests can and should be a learning experience both for contestants and judges, and sometimes winning a contest can be an excuse for not taking away from it any new knowledge or insights about how to do things better the next time around.

Knowing Where to Stop Is Important, Too

Not infrequently, the surface defects can only be observed by their shadows if an external light, such as a small flashlight is laid alongside the model to create an elongated reflection. As judging goes, that’s pushing the envelope at or beyond its appropriate limit. If it takes more than a few seconds to observe these types of defects, we generally consider them to be minor problems, and move on.

Mostly, identifying a laundry list of insignificant blemishes serve only to waste time, when time to complete the entire judging operation is at a premium. It is also unfair if competing models are not subjected to the same heightened level of scrutiny. I strongly discourage this sort of behavior because, at the very least, it creates the appearance of unfairness and it allows the judge to substitute his own idiosyncratic standard of whether a model meets ‘the basics” requirements.

Common Sense, Good Judgment, and Balancing Accomplishments Against Deficiencies

Some people get fixated on searching out defects, forgetting that the level of accomplishment that the modeler has achieved is a significant factor that outweighs all but the most observable defects. As a practical matter, such people make poor judges as they allow  their obsessions to control them, and to become bogged down in the minutia of the models they are judging. Just as importantly, they allow their emotions and  strongly held opinions to interfere with the normal give and take between themselves and other members of their judging team that is detrimental to the spirit of cooperation and collaborative decision making that judges must have in order to complete their assignments in a timely manner.

Professionalism and Appropriate Behavior Are More Important Than Being ‘Right’

For some people, it’s ‘My way or the highway’. That type of behavior is unacceptable. Also unwelcome are the ‘know it all’, the self-proclaimed ‘expert’, and persons who exhibit rigidity in dealing with others and who are incapable of negotiating with others having differing points of view. Personalities such as these detract from the fairness and transparency that judging requires, and we avoid them wherever possible.

The knowledge, experience, and wisdom of the judges acting together is generally greater than that of each of the acting alone. The ability to compromise and accommodate other viewpoints is essential. We want judges who not only are good judges of modeling skill, but who also have good common sense, sound judgment, and who can moderate their opinions to accommodate the views of the other judges with whom they are working to reach a fair result.

The Impossible Quest for the Perfect Model

If the modeler tries too hard to play it safe, the model he produces is likely to be lifeless and uninteresting. The presentation may in fact be so minimalist as to be overlooked entirely by the judges, because as modelers themselves, they’re looking for things that excite their imaginations and catch their interest. There are people who build primarily to compete in contests,, but my experiences been that there are relatively few.

As for those who want to push the envelope, incorporating all sorts of interior detail and nonstandard stuff that typically we refer to as ‘wow factor’, I would remind them that these effects, however spectacular, are secondary to getting ‘the basics’ right.  And, in judging ‘the basics’ we give equal consideration to things that modelers leave out that should be there, thus causing the modeler’s work to be unbalanced.

Natural Effects, Overload, and Clutter

As a form of artistic interpretation, weathering and environmental effects echo the efforts of artists, painters and sculptors since time immemorial to render the things they experience in the world as realistic as possible. Model building’s closest proximate analog in painting would be a type of art form known as ‘trompe l’oeil’, a term meaning, “to deceive the eye”; which means that the artist strives to create an optical illusion that viewers are induced to believe they are seeing a real object even though it is a two dimensional rendering on a painted canvas. It is the same impulse that inspires sculptors working in stone and cast bronze.

In a very real sense, modelers strive to recreate an illusion of reality captured in plastic, resin and metal scale miniatures of those things. The goal of every modeler is to ‘deceive the eye’ of the observer so that the model is rendered in the imagination of the observer as a realistic approximation of the original object down to the finest detail. That is also the impulse that motivates modeling itself, progressing from carved wood to injection molded thermoplastics and polyurethane resin castings, with photoetched metal to create equipment and fittings that are otherwise impossible to replicate in any other way. When assembled together, they re-create in scale as close an approximation of the real world as we experience it in representational form.

But what we are really re-creating in miniature is an illusion that our minds and imaginations willingly accept in order to pretend that we are looking at the real thing, as if to capture the spirit and essence of the original. It is a human impulse as old as the cave drawings of animals that Paleolithic humans hunted for food and clothing and it is as a new has the most recently issued sci-fi movie with its extensive (and expensively produced) computer graphics renderings of worlds and people that only our imaginations could create.

Re-creating environmental effects on our models simply heightens the sense of realism that we are trying to achieve through judicious use of environmental details through the judicious introduction of naturalistic effects, i.e. ‘weathering’, that lend substance and veracity to the imagery that the models themselves are intended to create.

‘Weathering’ as used by the IPMS National rules is meant to describe additive environmental effects on a model that simulate operational usage, and the resultant wear and tear that an aircraft or military vehicle experiences in the normal course of in-service usage. As such, including a worn or weathered appearance to a model to reflect operational use to any extent, whether newly assigned equipment or lengthy combat involvement, is optional with the modeler. The modeler incurs no penalty for having entered a scale replica of an aircraft, military vehicle, or other type of military equipment in clean and pristine condition, as if it were newly arrived at its duty station. But this may be a trap for the unwary; if the modelers entry includes indicia of field usage, i.e., so-called ‘nose art’, ‘kill’ markings, mission markers, combat crew nicknames or references to wives or girlfriends, that modeler has crossed over into ‘weathering’ territory. Unit markings, paintwork or codes reflecting squadron assignments, inclusion of droppable ordinance attached to under wing hardpoints, auxiliary fuel tanks, and other indicia of actual usage reflect the modeler’s deliberate choice to replicate an aircraft or piece of equipment on operational assignment; and consequently, some measure of weathering, regardless of how modest or minimal that might be, becomes the appropriate standard against which the model will be evaluated and judged in comparison with the other models on the table, but only on whether the absence of environmental effects on one model are overcome by another model’s inclusion of those effects and how they affect the overall presentation of that model.

In most cases, less is more, and a little bit goes a long way. As with condiments and food, the idea is to enhance the flavor of the original without overwhelming it. The model is the focus of the work, and the environmental effects merely lend support in a way that merely suggests the time, place, and circumstance in which the model has been placed. Anything more detracts from the overall atmosphere that the entire presentation creates. With that in mind, these environmental effects should draw attention to themselves as little as possible.

If the environmental effects thus included are poorly done or inappropriate (see below), that would likely negate whatever advantage the modeler gained by including them at all. In many if not most competitions, the safe bet would be to include only so much as necessary to suggest ordinary operational usage, and double check to ensure that that all such effects are consistent with one another.

The Badly Designed Model Kit Must Be Corrected Where Possible

Even if the modeler enters what could be referred to as a ‘clean piece’ devoid of unit markings or other indicia of operational service, or wear and tear, there is still the matter of accounting for the normal physical effects of gravity, so that at a minimum, the model has the appropriate ‘sit’, reflecting weight placed on its travel wheels or aircraft landing gear. IPMS National Guidance instruction include a requirement that the modeler open up gun barrels, air scoops, and the like as part of basic completion requirements. Correcting observable errors in a manufactured model kit is also one of ‘the basics’. Thus, if the modeler submits a vehicle that appears to sit too high above its suspension, even when empty of cargo, whether that oversight occurred inadvertently or due to some design error in the model kit, judges tend to notice that sort of thing, and make their decisions accordingly. If there are fitment problems because the manufacture of the kit that the modeler used got something wrong, the modeler is obligated to make the appropriate corrections. We can summarize the above-mentioned items simply as this: The modeler is responsible for knowing his subject thoroughly enough to make necessary corrections of manufacturer errors that are known to exist.

Of course, some things are beyond the ability of most modelers to achieve. If the kit manufacturer has produced a product with severe dimensional errors, no amount of tinkering around the edges is going to improve it. We make the best of what we have, and nothing in the rules even suggests that things like incorrect cowling contours on an aircraft, or similar correction of kit design flaws need to be remedied. As a practical matter, few modelers will waste their time trying to bring a long out-of-production kit up to current standard; but should anyone venture to do so, only ‘the basics’ will apply to those efforts.

Gravity and gravitational effects are primal constants within our universe. For modelers, that means those things that a model is supposed to replicate must be included in the model. If landing gear compression struts are overly long, so that the model appears to stand on tiptoe when placed on the ground in a typical static display, those landing gear struts need to be adjusted accordingly. Pneumatic tires should be slightly flattened at their point of contact with the ground to reflect the vehicle’s or aircraft’s weight upon them. Landing gear struts for aircraft are known to have specific angles of incidence when measured against the aircraft datum line. Most judges will not know the specifics of a particular aircraft model to know whether the modeler got it right, but if one landing gear struts differs from the one on the opposite wing, the judges will know that the modeler was not paying attention to what he was doing, and they will judge accordingly.

Just as gravity exerts its effects on every physical object within a setting, so must every element within a model reflect the natural order of things. To that end, clothing and personal equipment must drape and fall naturally, both on standalone figures, and as stowed equipment on vehicles and elsewhere. Sandbags must flatten and droop under their own weight, but also under the weight of other sandbags piled atop them, whether mounted on vehicles as additional protection or in static positions. Ammunition belts for machine guns must also exhibit a naturalistic droop. Accumulations of dust and grime on vehicles, weaponry, and other portions of a model must be appropriate to the circumstance and environment they depict.

‘Weathering’ for particular models becomes highly dependent upon the actual environment in which an aircraft or piece of military equipment has been placed. In some instances, where servicing and maintenance is kept to a high standard, the visible effects of weathering tend to be minimal. Airfields built with concrete, asphalt, or Pierced Steel Planking (PSP) installed on hard, dry ground do not generate large amounts of dust and debris, and photographs bear this out. Consequently aircraft stationed at such facilities would not evidence much in the way of chipped paint or a worn and dirty look that aircraft operating in the North African desert circa 1943 would often display. Likewise, a Marine Corps airstrip in the Southwest Pacific on Bougainville, or perhaps a coral atoll, is a world apart from an American fighter base located in East Anglia, so models reflecting either of those theaters of operation should reflect the general conditions pertaining to their respective environments.

Far too frequently, these simulated affects are displayed inconsistently, haphazardly, or greatly overdone. In every contest, there are modelers who ‘pile it on’ so that their models are festooned with rust, debris, chipped paint, and the like that all too often spoil what was otherwise a worthwhile effort. I recall seeing a photograph of someone’s model in a well-known model magazine depicting a carrier borne aircraft with extensive chipping along the propeller and leading edge of the wing. Where would that chipping have occurred? Certainly not on an aircraft carrier flight deck, and certainly not in a saltwater environment where salt spray coming over the bow of the ship is likely to start corrosion on bare-metal airframes and components. Not only is this ideological, it’s just plain silly. The sad part is that if done with a lighter touch, those models would probably do well in any contest.

One does not become a good modeler unless he can also become a good observer. I frequently urge modelers to visit local rail yards or construction sites, and simply observe how exposure to weather and hard usage affects locomotives, freight cars, tank cars, hopper cars, and the like; how accumulated dirt, soot, and grime vary from top to bottom in accordance with exposure to sunlight and wind; to make themselves aware of when exposed metal transitions from being bright and shiny from constant wear from contact with rock and soil, to where it discolors and rusts.

Along with day-to-day observations, there is also the historical record. Avid modelers are also more likely than not to be collectors of books and photographs of the original aircraft, vehicles, ships, and other subjects of their modeling efforts. What modelers might not have in their own personal libraries or collections, images found on the Internet are more than likely to provide in the way of information. Conducting research today is far easier and far more productive than it was when I was a child in the early 1950s just starting out. If anything, images and data that we have access to can be overwhelming. What is indisputably necessary is the modeler’s willingness to do his research and make checklists of what he needs to do, and the sequence in which those tasks must be accomplished, in order to achieve the results he desires. Along the way, he will also learn more than a little bit of history, and that is all to the good.

Guiding the perceptions and ultimately the imaginations of observers is ultimately much of what scale modeling is all about. Models are imaginative renderings of things that existed somewhere else in time and place. Weathering and environmental effects are background and atmospheric renderings that allow the models to re-create in our minds a different time and place. It is the contest judges who decide which model creates the most compelling imagery.

Making It Believable

As rhetorical devices, weathering and environmental effects are in effect a visually created argument made by the modeler on behalf of his model based upon its detail and imagery to persuade observers that his model does indeed represent how the original aircraft or vehicle actually appeared within its historical context and in sufficient detail to persuade them that this model represents, in miniature, and almost lifelike representation of that original.

The job of the modeler is to make those effects convincing in the same way his model must be made convincing to observers as something closely approximating the real thing. We experience this every day in the way in which cinematography has incorporated into its art computer graphics that seamlessly create plausible alternative realities to allow filmmakers to tell their stories convincingly. Entirely apart from deciding whether a model or any group of them meet the basic requirements for model construction, fitment, and finishing, the ultimate task of the judge is to decide which model makes the most convincing case for itself.of

As for the judges who must evaluate the quality of the work, the modeler, in effect, is asking the judges to accept his rendition of environmental effects in the same way as the judges see those effects in the real world.

 Personal Effort and Accomplishment

In the end, the difference between winning an award and not will simply be the quality of the overall presentation and the success of the modeler in re-creating in miniature the overall effect that he is striving for. All things being equal, the model that reflects the builder’s personal effort to go beyond what the kit manufacturer has made available to him is frequently the decisive event of the judging. Judges know and reward good work when they see it. If a diorama creates a naturalistic effect in a balanced presentation reflecting an ensemble of overall good quality of each of the elements within that presentation, it is very likely to score well with the judges.

Justifying the Judges’ Decision

Judges are expected to be able to explain why they came to a particular decision, and to be as specific as possible. To be valid, their impressions need to be explainable and evaluative. To reiterate, all of ‘the basics’ are to be considered, fit and fitment carry the same weight as paintwork, finishing, and environmental effects, such as weathering. Judges are expected to avoid what is sometimes referred to as the ‘halo effect’, which is the tendency to project onto otherwise unrelated elements of the presentation the valuation weight and conclusion attributable to one single element of the presentation. The amount of weight to be given to any one of those elements depends upon the impression that element creates within the overall presentation. Not every defect is presumptively disqualifying, and judges are supposed to use their common sense and knowledge of modeling to arrive at their decisions. No two models will create the same impressions on the judges on each element that they are looking at. A slight flaw in alignment on one must be balanced out against a paint smudge on the other. The deciding factor might simply be that one of those defects is simply more obvious, and should have been caught earlier.

Who Gets to Decide

Judges reach their decisions by consensus, mostly. Once in a while, but very rarely, you have a situation where one judge is in vehement disagreement with others on his panel over how a decision over which way a decision should go. In point of fact, I cannot recall any time I have been Chief Judge for Silverwings’ contest in which I’ve been called upon to make that kind of decision. When I serve on a judging panel, our practice has been for me to be the last to voice an opinion. My preference is and has always been to query the other judges about what they like about particular models on the table and engage in a Socratic dialogue about what works, and what doesn’t work, for a particular model, and why that is so. The result has been that the two other judges I have been working with come to a consensus on their own about how to rank the competitors, to which I add my affirmative vote. They come to a decision on their own, but I get to ask questions about how they arrived at their conclusion.

Integrity and Fairness are the Primary Considerations in Any Judging

Rising above everything else is the question of sound judgment and personal integrity. Integrity, transparency, and fairness to all contestants are the lifeblood of any contest, and that is what keeps people coming back to Silverwings’ annual contests, year after Year.

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