Conversion Guide: Super-detailing Vehicles

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This article is not written in any particular order. If you want to see a certain section, feel free to skip to it by clicking on the links below: Ion Cannon Railgun Handrails Rear Door Missiles in Flight Extra-strength flying stand Handholds Spare ammo Cutaway View Working side doors Vents and grilles Medical Kits Side Panel Detail

Modellers for other genres--starships, military, cars, and so on, will be familiar with super detailing. For many things, like aircraft and starships from Star Trek and Star Wars, you can actually buy kits that let you convert an existing model kit to have an amazing level of detail on the mechanical stuff.I thought this was a fantastic idea, and that the relatively bland interior of the Devilfish in particular was screaming for more detail.First of all, I lay absolutely no claim to being an experienced modeller. I've only been doing this for a few months, and what I do have in abundance is imagination and enthusiasm. Tips on how to better or easier accomplish what I'm doing--or even better, ideas for other things to do to one of these models--are not only welcome, but encouraged.

Ion Cannon

Gallery image
First things first, I cut off the struts with a razor saw. This was relatively painless, aside from a moment of panic when I cinched my clamp a little too tight. I cut off the front cap first, since the inner cuts would weaken the structure and expose the plastic to stress breaks. Then the "cuff", and then the inner struts.[gal_img]1376[/gal_img]Then, I drilled out all the parts with a 3/32" pin vice bit, making sure to drill into the back of the IC a few eighths of an inch or so. Unfortunately, I ruined the cuff part, as it was too tiny for me to grip firmly with any of my tools, and thus twisted off-center while I was drilling it. Salvation was at hand, however--behold, the power of sprue! It just so happens that the circular "posts" on the Hammerhead sprues are only slightly larger in diameter than the original cuff.I cut off a large chunk of sprue (to give me something to hang on to), filed it flat on the bottom so that it could lay flat on my cutting board, and drilled out the post. I then cut the drilled cylinder to size, and filed until I was happy with it. Actually, I'll probably sand it a little more before I finish it. Finally, I cut off a length of blue rod about an inch long.I have since visited the hobby store again and discovered that you can buy hollow Plastruct "tubes". One of them is probably exactly the right size to replace or convert the cuffs for these struts, but the two I bought for other reasons weren't it yet, and unfortunately the Plastruct packaging only lists the outer diameter, not the inner.[gal_img]1387[/gal_img]The cap in the front was too rounded for my tweezers to get a grip, so I set it down with the side I needed to glue up, touched the end of the blue rod to a tiny drop of super glue, and carefully glued the cap to the end. I then threaded the rod through the jury-rigged cuff, and then all the way through the IC. It's not glued in place right now, but it will be once I've primed and painted everything.Gallery image
I like it. I think it'll look cool once everything's painted.


I really wanted to do some detail scratch building on the inside of my RG. In addition to designing a level and sturdy mount for the magnet (see other thread), and using brass rods to straighten the warped parts I got, I wanted to bulk up the "vent" parts of the barrel. While I'm sure it looks just fine at tabletop distance, I was unhappy with how hollow and unrealistic it looked, and wanted there to be some internal structure to the barrel for those who cared to look closely enough. So with several different kinds of plasticard strips, this is what I came up with after a lot of cutting and filing.[gal_img]1399[/gal_img]Most of it is just to provide a solid look to the barrel and the linear accelerators, with the narrow chamber down the middle through which the munitions and slugs pass. I drilled a small hole in the back end so that there's actually a place from which they emerge. I'm probably going to prime and paint the internal parts before assembly, so that I can add some minor details.I highly recommend tweezers for lying down and positioning tiny strips of plasticard.


Thinking about the DF's role as a troop carrier, I reasoned that there would probably be handrails in the passenger compartment--you know, the kind at or above head height that you find on buses and light rail for you to grab onto and keep your footing. Setting aside the fact that twelve FWs simply /will not/ fit in that compartment, I decided to go for realism. To start with, I drilled a pair of 1/16" holes in the front bulkhead of the PC.[gal_img]1400[/gal_img]Then I cut a pair of 1/16" brass rods 2 1/8" in length.Gallery image
First I dry-fitted the rods to see how they sat. It's very easy to not drill the holes straight and sure enough, mine weren't--but a little widening of the hole took care of that. The ends of the rods should rest in the recess of the rear bulkhead (the hollow parts of what, on the outside, are the two boxes with "X" shapes on them), and should be level. Try it once dry, then apply a drop of glue to each hole, put the rods in, and quickly dry-fit the rear bulkhead to the DF to keep the rods straight while the glue dries. You should end up with this:[gal_img]1402[/gal_img][gal_img]1403[/gal_img]I'm planning on taking some 0.10" strips of plasticard, forming them into little teardrop-shaped loops, and gluing them to the handrails like leather straps. Haven't gotten that far yet.

Rear door

I wasn't happy with the way the rear door just kind hangs there partially ajar. I wanted to make a magnetic latch, but there just wasn't anywhere on the door to put one. The solution, as usual: sprue! I cut a short length of sprue--about 3/8" will do--and carved one end of it until it fit flush against the top of the door. I then filed and sanded until it had a smooth, pleasing Tau-like shape, and looked like it belonged. I drilled a 1/16" hole in the bottom of the sprue, fitted a RE magnet into it, and then pinned and glued the sprue latch to the door. Some thin plasticard was necessary to make up for some of my screw-ups, but it came out well.[gal_img]1366[/gal_img]I then drilled a 1/8" hole in the back top of the DF hull, and fitted another, larger RE magnet snugly into it.[gal_img]1367[/gal_img]And voila--the door now snaps shut, and stays shut unless I open it. I still have a little bit more detailing and gap-filling to do.[gal_img]1368[/gal_img]

Missiles in flight

Anyone who's ever watched sci-fi or mecha anime is familiar with the sight of a cloud of missiles corkscrewing towards a target. Setting aside the realism of this, let's face it--it looks damn cool. I wanted to do this with my HH's SMS, but I'd never done anything of the like before. I'm sure there may be a better or nicer-looking way to do this, but this is how I did it.First, Ivery carefully sliced off the tips of a few missiles from the pod. The idea was to get them off intact, and I more or less accomplished this. A little bit of filing and sanding was necessary to get the cut parts flat.I then cut off the back caps from the pod for any missiles I was converting, and drilled a 3/32" hole in both the front and the back, about 1/8" deep. From there I drilled (using a #72 pin drill bit) a hole straight through the pod to accommodate 0.20" brass wire.Using Plastruct 0.10" rods, I cut three pieces 3/8" in length, filed the ends as level as I could get them, and glued the missile warheads to them. I then drilled matching 0.20" holes in the backs of the missiles.I took a few lengths of wire and wrapped them in a spiral around the handle of my hobby knife, then tugged at the ends until I liked the way they looked and threaded them through the tiny holes in the missile pod, making sure to leave about half an inch of wire protruding from the back of the pod. A drop of superglue at each place where the wire emerged from the pod held them in place.[gal_img]1369[/gal_img]I then took a couple cotton balls and pulled them gently apart until I had long, cloudy bits. I put a drop of PVA glue on my fingertip and spread it generously along the length of wire. Then, starting at the pod end, I wrapped the cotton around the wire in a spiral, making sure that both the pod end and the missile end were a little fluffier than the rest. A fluffier, less taut bit of cotton was glued to the backs of the pods in the same way. I then superglued the missiles to the ends of the wire.[gal_img]1370[/gal_img]I had to see what it looked like right away, so I took it outside and primed it. Forgive the bad pictures, please--I'll put up new ones when it's painted. But right now it looks killer.[gal_img]1371[/gal_img]Gallery image

Extra-strength flying stand

I've read that a lot of people have problems with their flying stands breaking, and I'm not surprised--those things are pretty flimsy, especially at the point of greatest stress: where they slot into the vehicle itself. With all the extra weight that my Hammerfish is going to have on it, this was likely to be an even bigger problem for me. I decided to use a length of brass rod instead of the normal plastic stand.Unfortunately, this required a rethinking of the bottom of the vehicle, since the HH/DF chassis has an intolerably thin and weak hole for the stand. I could just plop a lump of putty or something on the inside and sink it into that if I didn't care how the passenger compartment looked--but I care.First order of business is to bulk up the amount of plastic on the bottom where the stand will go. Your friend and mine, styrene/plasticard, did the trick, along with some help from a length of scrap paper clip.[gal_img]1373[/gal_img]I'm thinking of putting a box of ammo or something on the floor of the PC, since even this additional bulk isn't likely to stand up to play--but I'm still thinking on my options.


The handrails were a great idea, but I realized they were missing something: handhold loops. You know, loops of leather or such that you grab onto or slip your wrist through. Luckily, the 0.10" x 0.30" strips that Plastruct makes were perfect.[gal_img]1374[/gal_img]I cut four strips for each side, each strip 3/8" long, and bent them in half around the tip of my round-nose pliers. I then carefully pinched them into a teardrop shape and touched the narrow end of the teardrop to a drop of superglue, and held it that way for a few seconds. Then I glued them to the handrails. They'll end up painted some suitable leathery color. Next time I think I'll use some putty or another strip of styrene to make the parts of the straps that wrap around the rail.

Spare ammo

The Devilfish is a troop transport, right? You'd think that they'd carry extra ammo, weapons, and supplies, right? Well, you wouldn't know it from the look of the thing--the inside of the DF is pretty bare, and doesn't have any obvious storage compartments or anything.Well, for starters, take a look at the flat rails modelled onto the inside. You'll find that the spare pulse rifles you get with the FW Definition: Forge Worldsprues fit perfectly in them. If this is coincidence, it's an awfully fortunate one--because it gives you extra opportunities for detail on your DF. In the pictures that follow, you'll see the pulse rifles mounted on the walls--I haven't glued them down yet, because I'm planning on painting them separately, but I put them in there to show you what it looks like.[gal_img]1375[/gal_img]I then took two of the grenade 'bitz from the FW Definition: Forge Worldsprue, filed the backs down a bit, and constructed a shelf out of styrene strips and quarter-rounds. Then all of the ammo was glued down. You can see some of the other details I added to the wall here as well.[gal_img]1377[/gal_img]And here's what it looks like when fitted to the hull:[gal_img]1378[/gal_img]

Cutaway view

I want this to be a playable model, but I also want to be able to show off all the internal details that I worked so hard on. Fortunately the way the DF is put together, while a bit vexing at times, lends itself perfectly to this: I decided that I would make one of the side panels removable.I could just tape it on or use blu-tac, but that'd look like complete crap. I could use pins, and just not glue them, but that might not stay on well enough or tightly enough. I want the model to look as close to sealed as I can get it, so that you wouldn't know it opens until I show it off.The solution? You guessed it: Magnets!I would need strong magnets--the primary seal would have to be a pair of 1/4" rare earth magnets. There is plenty of room in the landing gear well to make this connection. First, I mounted a magnet on the wall panel, doing plenty of dry-fitting and peering at odd angles to make sure it would work out. I had a few abortive attempts to supergluing the magnet to the uneven surface of the panel before I simply glued a flat plate of plasticard to the panel to provide a flat enough surface for the magnet to bond.Even then, I ended up caulking the magnet with green stuff--the 1/4" magnets have a pull much stronger than the bond super glue can make between them and styrene. Eventually I carefully smoothed out the GS Definition: Green Stuffaround the magnet. I'm not sure why, other than a vague desire to have the guts of the panel everyone's going to see when it comes off not look completely crappy.[gal_img]1379[/gal_img]The other side was tricky, because the two magnets had to mate perfectly. I decided to connect the other magnet to the one on the wall panel, build up the GS Definition: Green Stuffinside the gear well, and press the two parts together and let the hull's magnet bond with the putty for a few hours before pulling the pieces apart. This worked like a charm.[gal_img]1380[/gal_img]I will probably do some detail or at least smoothing work on the two sides--not because it's strictly necessary, but because everyone's going to see them when the wall comes off, and I don't want the ugliness of the magnet stuff to distract from the internal details.I'm thinking that a smaller magnetic join, like a pair of 1/8" RE magnets, will round things out on the top. An alternative, however, would be to use a couple lengths of brass rod to provide guidance pins, so that the panel always stays on seamlessly. Still thinking about it.

Working side doors

Making the doors work is easy, and I'm sure many people have done it--hell, given the way the pieces are molded, they look like they were intended for this purpose. Cut a pair of paperclip pieces 3/8" in length, and drill a hole through the hinge part of the door. Then (very carefully!) drill holes through the hinge tabs on the door frame. It works best if you lay the tip of the drill bit flat on its side with the tip pressed against the front-side hinge tab, and drill all the way through both of them in a straight line. You'll get some slight scoring on the hull when the drill bit emerges from the second tab, but nothing a drop of glue or putty won't fix.Then, using a 1/16" drill bit, drill matching shallow holes in both the top of the door frame and the top of the door. To be sure they're positioned right; the drill bit should be centered horizontally and resting against the top edge of the door frame and the little tab on the top of the door. See the photo if you're not sure what I mean.Be careful not to drill all the way through--you want it just a hair deeper than a 1/16" RE magnet, so that the magnet will sit flush with the door and frame. A drop of glue in the bottom of each hole before seating the magnets will seal the deal--just be sure you've got the polarities right![gal_img]1381[/gal_img]Gallery image
Then just fit the door into the frame--even without the hinge in, you'll notice that these tiny magnets will hold the door in place just fine. Still, you might have to adjust its position slightly to get the paperclip in--which you should do now. If you measured and cut right, the hinge should be almost invisible--and will be even more so if you seal the hinge in place with a drop of glue on each outer side (be careful not to glue the door in place).Depending on how precise your drilling was or how good a mold your kit had, you may find that the door doesn't want to open all the way. Don't force it--just scrape a tiny amount of plastic from around the hinge to make room.[gal_img]1383[/gal_img]Now the door will open--but only when you want it to.The 1/4" magnet, while it would keep the side panel on, would not keep it flush with the hull--there were little gaps, especially at the front end. I thought about guide pins, but that wouldn't keep it flush, just straight. More magnets were in order!This part is very tricky. Donot attempt this unless you are comfortable with precision measurement and drilling.The problem with attaching the front end with magnets is that the side panel is very thin at that end--a little under 3/32", more like 5/64". The only magnets I have that are that thin are my 1/16" magnets, and I don't think they're strong enough to hold the hull flush. I would need to use a 1/8" magnet to have any pull, and those are 1/16" thick--the margin for error is wafer-thin.Add to that the fact that drill bits are not perfectly flat--if you look at the tips, they are slightly conical. That meant that if I was going to mount a magnet in the side panel this way, it would have to protrude slightly--or I'd end up drilling slightly through the panel with the tip.In the end, I drilled through the panel. This was intentional--I decided to scratch build some detail to cover it up.So Ivery carefully drilled through until a hole about 1/16" wide poked through the outside of the panel. Then I slipped a paperclip through that hole and used it to mark the matching point on the hull, as if I were going to pin it. I drilled a hole in the hull, and then glued magnets to both sides.[gal_img]1384[/gal_img][gal_img]1385[/gal_img]Next, I took a 0.08" strip of thick styrene, cut it to 1/2" in length, and cut and filed until it had a smooth, Tau-like shape. I carefully scribed panel lines in it using a hobby knife, and drilled two holes in one end of it--one large enough for a paper clip, and one for 0.02" brass wire. I then glued a short bit of each (being sure to file the end of the paper clip flat, as it needed to look nice) into their respective holes. Voila: a Tau-looking sensor lump was added, and the scars from my magnet adventure were covered, adding a little strength to the side panel in the process.[gal_img]1386[/gal_img]And here's what it looks like mounted to the hull. The thing practically leaps out of your fingers to attach itself in exactly the right spot, with gaps so thin that only gap filler would do the trick anyway.[gal_img]1388[/gal_img]To remove it, gently grip the front end of the panel (The door will probably have to be open to do this) and peel it backwards. I may add a bit of detail near the front to grab onto so that the paint job doesn't get rubbed off over time.

Vents and grilles

Tau technology is practically the opposite of Star Wars: the Tau are very compact and sealed, whereas SW tech is very "guts on the outside"--think about the look of the bottom of Tau gun drones, or SW starships. So when I look at the machinery exposed on the top of the HH/DF hull, it looks a little out of place. Cool--but out of place. It's nice detail so I didn't want to cover it up, but I thought: why not add a grille or vent plate to it? There are these nice tabs on the recesses; too...This requires a few purchases. For about $10, I picked up some photo-etched brass mesh, which provided me enough material to last for quite a lot of different conversions (I didn't even use 5% of it for this). And of course, plasticard, although you might be able to substitute card stock in a pinch. I do, in fact, recommend using card stock to make your template before cutting up your plasticard.First, I made a template on which to base the rest, and so I could more easily do it again to another model if I wanted. Then I cut out a piece of plasticard--when in doubt, cut less rather than more. Once I had a piece that would fit in the recess, I had to hollow it out to make a frame.Those of you who've worked with sheet styrene before know that it will easily fracture along a straight line. This is very handy when you're cutting straight lines, but not so handy if you want curves or concave corners. So I drilled a pilot hole at each inside corner, and using a straightedge as my guide, carefully connected the dots with my hobby knife. This takes some slow and patient work, but is worth it.I then used the same template as before to cut the brass mesh. It is very thin and easy to cut with a hobby knife, although I don't recommend you use your good blade for it if you have a spare--it'll dull a blade in a hurry.[gal_img]1389[/gal_img]A little bit of very careful, very gradual trimming was in order, but once done I had a very close fit. There are some gaps around the edges of the vent frame, but I can fill these with putty.[gal_img]1390[/gal_img][gal_img]1391[/gal_img]I am not 100% sure about this detail. The mesh might be too fine, and might obscure the internal detail too much. I haven't glued the vents down yet, and won't until I've painted the inside details. Once that's done, I'll have a better idea of how visible the details are through the mesh.I think most of the obscurity right now is coming from the reflections off the brass, which went away once it was primed and painted:[gal_img]1392[/gal_img]Before adding the mesh...[gal_img]1393[/gal_img]And after. I may still add some putty to the seams and touch up the paint. Not sure yet. But I really like how it came out. All the detail that went into it isn't visible at a glance, but it is if you look closely.

Medical Kits

Okay, I snuck in a little bit of time tonight because I had an idea for some med-kits. I was inspired by the Surgery Kit in an old game I loved called Strife, but only in general shape and design--the scale is too small for the details.I started with three rectangular pieces of styrene, which I cut up and glued together in sort of a fat "H" shape. I then sanded and filed the shapes until the top and bottom pieces were flush, and glued a styrene sheet to the bottom. Then, I set to work on the Tau symbol for the front.I took a 1/10" Plastruct rod, and drilled a tiny hole off-center in the end. I widened that hole with a larger drill bit until it nearly touched the edge. I then sliced off a thin wafer from the end, and squeezed it flat with needle nose pliers (the flat-tip kind). I glued that to the front of the med kit.Next I drilled a paperclip hole in the center of the previous drilling, cut a very tiny piece of paperclip out (being sure to file flat the end first), and glued that in, the goal being that the filed end of the paperclip would be out and flush with the plastic to form the "circle" part of the Tau symbol. To complete the symbol, I cut grooves in the wafer as necessary.Gallery image
A thin strip of styrene, bent with tweezers, formed a handle, and a few more pieces of very thin (0.05") styrene bulked out the piece a bit and made it a little less boxy and featureless.[gal_img]1395[/gal_img]With that, I was more or less satisfied--particularly with the Tau symbol, which took me three tries to get right. You will find that it can be very difficult to cut even, thin slices of styrene like this.

Side Panel Detail

I added some guitar strings and paper clips to the side panels to give them a little more personality, covered up some of the putty with sheet styrene where I could, and declared them done. I could add more items to the shelf on the right-hand panel, but I want most of the detail to be on the inside--I don't want a lot of tiny pieces that can break off on the part that's going to get handled a lot. I may reconsider and add something else if I get bored, but I'm going to finish and paint this now. Before painting it:[gal_img]1396[/gal_img][gal_img]1397[/gal_img]

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