Jason Eaton

Sometimes my arms bend back

Photo shoot!

Taking pics this evening…

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Busy so busy

Wonderfest is in a week! Still busy updating the France trip pics, finishing up a Hero TIE Fighter (ANH flavor), thrilling to Gordon’s mellower personality, finding interesting things in bell peppers, and still AMAZED that we hung out with Boris Williams…

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Studio Scale Probe Droid from The Empire Strikes Back

This is a build up from a resin kit of the Probe Droid, as seen in The Empire Strikes Back. I added a light, sound, and servo kit from Hyperdyne Labs so it can rotate it’s head, extend and retract antennas, fire the laser (via red led), and play sounds from the film. It’s a great model involves a nice amount of scratch building and tube cutting, and builds into a studio replica with all five legs articulated! This was a great opportunity to use the laser cutter to design and cut an internal armature as well. Here’s a video of the model in action!

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Studio Scale Y-Wing Fighter • Red Leader – the first Y-Wing

This is my build of the iconic first Y-Wing Fighter built for A New Hope, from an amazingly accurate representation of what the modeling community affectionately refers to as the “Red Jammer”. Named by Neisen and his crew because of the unique domed detail plant-on, in place of the usual Artoo unit, Red Jammer is one of my most favorite and romanticized model subjects. Of all of the Y-Wings from the original Star Wars, the red version is unique. It was the first Y-Wing to be built in December 1975, with the Y-Wing miniatures being referred to internally as project #506, as seen on various blueprints and documents.

The first Y-Wing model out of the ILM assembly line was not even originally intended to be filmed. ILM constructed, assembled, and partially weathered both an X-wing and a Y-wing that were shipped off to the Art Department at Elstree Studios in London to be used as guides for the construction of the full size sets. As this needed to be done in advance of the commencement of principal photography in the Spring of 1976, ILM had to deliver the models shortly after Christmas of 1975. At some time following their use overseas, both models were shipped back Stateside, where the Blue X-Wing was finished and converted into “Red 2”, and the Red Y-Wing was completed as well. It is unknown whether the Red Y-Wing saw screen time or how it was used after Elstree. The finishing work was most likely done after the other Y-Wings were completed, as the detailing and pieces used on the incomplete side was atypical. No two Y-Wings are the same, but the Red Y-Wing is generally agreed upon as being the most unique in it’s use of plant-ons, paint work, and decals. To myself and many others, the Red Y-Wing and Blue X-Wing are the most “romantic” of the original models made for Star Wars, as they were the absolute first constructed.

Click here for my recreation of Blue 1!

Click here for my build of this amazing Y-Wing, which I used to generate the build instructions for an incredibly limited run of fan-made kits.

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Captain Needa’s Shuttle from The Empire Strikes Back

This is one of those rare instances where I was able to make things up within the “world of Star Wars” as I built a studio scale model, trying to think of how ILM would have constructed a riff on their TIE Bomber model. It all started when a discussion sprung up among friends about which models from the original Star Wars trilogy were left to document and build. Someone mentioned Needa’s Shuttle, which I must admit I didn’t even remember seeing. You see, about one hour and ten minutes into The Empire Strikes Back, we catch a glimpse of Captain Needa’s shuttle exiting a Star Destroyer and rocketing over to Vader’s Super Star Destroyer. It occurs between Yoda’s “That is why you fail” line and Vader’s “Apology accepted, Captain Needa” line. Most model fans agree that it was most likely the TIE Bomber model, with it’s wings flipped around (so that the angled outwards), but the resolution is so poor and the model is so small against the screen, it could be anything. The ever-well-connected-and-talented Gene Kozicki unearthed a storyboard that showed the Bomber model-esque configuration, which supports the theory. So as a fun exercise, a group of us (led by Gene) decided it would be fun to make our own shuttle models as a creative exercise. I got a little carried away…

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How I made a Studio Scale AT-ST from The Empire Strikes Back (part two)

Hey gang, here’s part two in a never ending on-going saga that glosses over (in a totally in-depth way) how I built the Studio Scale ESB AT-ST, yadda yadda, you know why you’re here: CHIN GUN!

The chin gun is a tricksy element of the build, and like the side gun assembly (from Part One) can be considered a model unto itself. Complicated, murky in the reference department, and articulated, the chin gun has it all. Also, brass. You’ll be ‘a cutting some brass stock for this one. Parts come from 7 or so models, including the one and only donor from the Steyr Tractor (which always makes a modeler feel like the butt of some cruel joke – one piece from a kit? Really?!). You’ll need to cut two Crocodile fenders, glue some 1/12th disc brakes together, shave down some Screamin’ Mimi bogeys, and very carefully modify a Nebelwerfer part. It’s a nerve-wracker of a build. So much so that the parts change within the pictures below, as I delved deeper into the research that the crack team made along the way. Allan in particular was a superstar in this area – my chin gun benefits from the work he did making countless revisions to the multiple chin guns he had built!

Always check your references!

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How I made a Studio Scale AT-ST from The Empire Strikes Back (part one)

Sometimes I am asked “how do you make that _____ I saw?”, which is a question that requires some pretty long and involved answering, and I don’t exactly know how to answer. I usually just shrug and say “you dig in, and … and eventually you have the model on your bench!” which I know is a cop-out. But it’s like asking a mechanic “how did you strip that engine?” or a doctor “how did you sew up that incision?”. These are really impossible-to-answer-without-teaching-a-skill questions. So hopefully by picking the AT-ST from The Empire Strikes Back, I can explain what is involved in making one of these filming replica miniatures. It’s quite daunting and deceptive, expensive to get off the ground and build, but absolutely exquisite when finished!

Now, none of these models happen in a vacuum. There is almost always a long trail of contributors behind every thing you see on a model bench, and this AT-ST is no exception. Briefly, as I recall, here’s the hows and whos: First off, this is a strange model. There is not a lot of public reference for this AT-ST, and as is usually the case when it comes to a poorly-documented model from ESB, the Studio Scale gang falls in love. We want what we cannot have, right? So, armed with the scant few seconds of screen caps from the film, and the two or three published photos of the model from various magazines and books, a fella named Isel made a master pattern of the AT-ST, that was then cast and sold by Steve Neisen. Isel was able to ID some of the key donor parts to the model from these small ill-defined photos, but the angles were not ideal, so some of the model was idealized. This is not a big deal, as it almost always happens with a replica, even on ones that have been photographed to death – there is no substitution for a direct hand-study, and even then, it is almost impossible to capture asymmetry that is almost always found in the original.

Now, to backtrack for a second, I should explain what “IDing donor parts” is all about. With most of the models I talk about, we run into surface and even sometimes structural details that are made up of model kit parts – literally just visually interesting elements from various model kits that have been snipped from their sprues, and applied to the model, which is usually clad in styrene or plexi/acrylic. It is, as you can imagine, a very daunting process to ID these model parts, and over time you amass a basement full of vintage armor and aircraft kits, all of which have been slowly picked apart in the process of building your latest and greatest triumph. You also learn to spot “the usual suspects”, which come from kits that the model shop must have loved, as they appear over and over again, on many different models. That’s how everyone in this hobby ends up with things like 5 8-Rads and 12 Morser Karl kits!

Anyway, back to the AT-ST. Neisen’s kit was released, and people loved it, though there was a structural problem. Since the entire model was cast in resin, the legs would weaken and warp over time, from the weight of the resin body and head. A small group of like-minded modelers decided to draft a partial armature to solve this problem, thinking that laser cut acrylic legs would keep the AT-ST upright. As this was snowballing into ideas of metal parts, I took a trip to Japan with my wife, for vacation and Maschinen Krieger-related reasons. While in the offices of Art Box (to study original SF3D models from Kow Yokoyama), we were introduced to Seiji Takahashi, one of the most talented and famed Star Wars modelers in Japan. He has co-written a few of the “bibles” that we model builders use, like Chronicles, and was excited to compare notes with me on projects and builds. I had been told of this meeting ahead of time, and had asked for a small wishlist of photo reference if he had it, with the AT-ST being among them. Imagine my surprise when Takahashi-san reveals a binder with amazing crisp large format prints of the filming model, from almost every conceivable angle!

This was amazing for a few reasons. Chief of them being that the AT-ST itself does not exist in it’s original whole form any longer. It is now a naked armature with feet, a few remnants of details, and a battered and stripped head. This is due to the fact that it was dissected some time in between ESB and Jedi, as the model makers were refining the AT-ST for the final film. This is also partly fortuitous for us, as Takahashi-san also had a few well-taken photos from 1993 when this stripped-down model toured Japan, because they show us a lot of detailed information about the underlying metal armature, which would never have been well-documented, and hidden from view in the final configuration! Takahashi-san surmises that his photo survey of the model, post-filming but pre-dissection, are from an ex-Kenner employee. It is unknown if ILM even have these photos, as nothing has ever surfaced in literature. These of course would have been taken by the production and given to Kenner to make their AT-ST toy, which did indeed come to market for ESB. It is a taller, sleeker, and I think sexier design. Good enough reason to build, if you ask me!

So, once back from Japan, and armed with this reference, that small group realized we could NAIL this model, accuracy-wise, and start from scratch, with a complete metal armature, and built as the original was, with a vacuum formed head. Over one year, two armature revisions, many part IDs, and refinements to head shapes later, everything was in place to build what you will read about below. I truly am building this model on the backs of others -  talented model makers like Allan, Lee, Julien, Quincy, and a few others who banded together to bring these replicas to life. I know I speak for all of us when I say it will always be a jewel in the display case, and represents the power of working together under a shared near-unhealthy obsession with the golden age of ILM miniatures.

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Battlestar Galactica Antique Viper Gallery

This is the finished model, which I chronicled building here and patterning here!

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Blue One – the very first X-Wing fighter

This one is pretty dear to my super-nerd heart. It’s the only replica any one has made of the very very first X-Wing prop that was made by ILM in December of 1975, as “Project 504″. According to the original spreadsheet detailing the ILM projects in late 1975, thsi X-Wing appears to have been built by Lorne Peterson, Steve Gawley, and Grant McCune, who recently passed away (and the original model of this particular prop was the one shown in McCune’s hands in the Oscar tribute photo that was shown recently). It is unique for a couple of reasons – the livery is blue, as the original script/story called for “Blue Squadron”, but camera tests showed that this color was too problematic for the blue screen compositing, so they switched it to red. The “hero” X-Wings (of which there were probably 4 made) had metal armatures and extendable wings, a resin top fuselage and a vacuum-formed plastic lower hull. Since this was the first built, the scribed “panel lines” were wildly different than all the others, as well as the engines, “burner cans” and some other detailing. It also did not have an “Artoo” in the top mount hole, nor a cockpit or pilot. This model was sent to Elstree in England the day after Christmas along with the unfinished “Red” Y-Wing, and both were used by the studio to build the full-sized wooden mock ups that you see the actors interact with. When it was sent back, the blue was painted over, a cockpit/pilot and artoo were added, and this model is now known as “Red 2″. This was also unique in that it featured a TON of decals all over the surface. I spent the last year recreating these markings (and a bunch of other studio scale subjects) in Illustrator, and had a company in California silkscreen a run of real waterslide decals, so now people who make this weird niche shit can have decals when they need ‘em. I’d like to personally thank a few individuals who helped along the way – Mike Salzo, Gene Kozicki, Kevin Witte, and a few others whom I’m always indebted to! So there ya go – Blue One, the very first X-Wing fighter.

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Studio Scale ANH Escape Pod

This is a model I built in 2007, and that I recently re-photo graphed with a black background (because it is sexy!). Also included are the original set of photos from 2007, with frustrated comments. It was a pretty bad kit, and became a turning point for me, as after this, I decided to scratch build a lot more. It always yields far better results.

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