Articles:
Gremlins in the Garage!

Getting Started
with
Resin Kits
by Jim Bertges
What is a Garage kit? Do you fondly remember all the monsters in your favorite Science Fiction and Horror movies? Have you ever longed to build a model of the evil aliens from Invasion of the Saucermen or the creature creations of master animator Ray Harryhausen? Well, thanks to modern molding and casting materials and a group of industrious individuals from all corners of the world, there are kits available of more aliens, monsters and creatures than you may have ever imagined!

Garage Kits were essentially resin castings of sculptures created and molded in the garages or basements of talented fans of Science Fiction and Horror films. However, in recent years Garage Kits have gone from being an interesting modeling phenomenon to a full-fledged industry with companies like Horizon, Screamin' and Geometric producing an astounding array of subjects in resin and vinyl. Today, the term Garage Kit encompasses everything from high-quality kits from large manufacturers to the individually produced, very limited edition resin kits from the guy down the street. Often it will be the individual producer that provides the more obscure and interesting characters.

I'll be covering the pitfalls and pleasures of those kits produced by amateurs because of their interest in their subjects, rather than for the money they can make. Although the accuracy or quality of these kits may be slightly lacking, the challenge and anticipation of crafting that creature that haunted your childhood dreams can go a long way in overcoming these distractions. Of course, this will be a "worst case scenario" with many different problems cropping up in one kit. Most kits are not quite this challenging, but it's best to know everything you might face and be prepared to correct it.

Kit Preparation

While the large manufacturers of vinyl and resin kits have become experts in quality control, the small, home based kit producers can offer product that varies widely in quality from creator to creator and even from kit to kit. It pays to inspect any kit you plan on buying very carefully, since the quality of the casting will not only affect your final piece, but how much time you will spend in correcting flaws and details. However, inspection isn't always an option since many kits are only available by mail. Many garage kits don't come in nice boxes with interesting art either, they have been known to come in a plastic bag with no instruction sheet and it's up to you to figure out how all the parts go together. So, a bit of knowledge about your subject and some modeling knowledge will come in handy.

Cleaning up

The best way to start your project is with a bath. Using a mild soap and warm water, carefully wash off all parts to eliminate any mold release agent (and there could be quite a bit). Handle thin, fragile looking parts with extreme care since the resin can be brittle and break easily. Because of the manual nature of casting garage kits, there can be excessive amounts of flash, but be careful in removing it. Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between what is flash and what is intended to be detail. This is where knowledge of your subject will serve you well.

1A. Right out of the box. These are
all the parts for the resin Ymir as they
came. Note the flash on several of
the parts. Depending upon the quality
of the resin used for casting, it can
be brittle, so handle it with care.

1B. Many flaws show up as bubbles
and pinholes which are caused by
air bubbles trapped n the resin
during the curing process. Some
flaws can also be caused by a casting
made from a mold that is deterioration.

1C. Heavy seam lines that occur on
textured areas must be removed
carefully in order to preserve the
surface texture.

Another problem that plagues resin cast garage kits is pinholes. Pinholes are caused by air bubbles trapped in the resin during the casting process. Depending upon the quality of the casting and the resin used, there can be an apparently overwhelming number of pinholes to be filled in a given kit. A favorite method of filling them is to use drops of gap filling super glue. A simple applicator can be made with a sewing needle and a piece of dowel for a handle. Using wire cutters, snip the needle's eye in half (be sure to use eye protection since bits of needle will be flying) and glue the sharp end of the needle into a small hole drilled into a 1/4" piece of dowel. You will have a "U" shaped applicator that will pick up tiny drops of super glue and deposit them exactly where you want them. Because the glue hardens after a couple of applications, the needle eye needs to be scraped clean frequently. This method works best where there are only a few, larger pinholes to be filled. In a case where there are many small holes, I prefer to use Squadron White modeling putty that has been diluted 50/50 with lacquer thinner. By placing a bit of putty into a 35mm film container and adding lacquer thinner in small amounts, you can reduce the putty to a batter-like consistency and apply it with a brush. Using the thinned putty can cover larger areas of small flaws quickly. Since the putty is thinned, it tends to flow into the flaws and it doesn't clog detail as much as using undiluted putty. You can even smooth out the putty by lightly brushing over it with clear lacquer thinner, but be careful, lacquer thinner can affect the plastic. Often, if the pinholes are quite small, a good coat of primer will cover them nicely.

2A. Gap-filling super glue is applied to
larger holes using a needle eye applicator.

2B. An alternative method of hole filling,
using Squadron putty, thinned 50% with lacquer
thinner and applied with a brush. This covers
larger areas of small flaws and doesn't obscure
the detail.

2C. Often, large areas can be lost during
casting due to air pockets in the mold.

2D. Milliput is very useful in restoring
lost areas and rebuilding details.

2E. Smaller details, such as claws and
teeth can be lost in casting as well.

2F. Claws are replaced with Milliput.

2G. Missing teeth have been replaced
with the tips of straight pins.

Air trapped in a resin casting can cause other problems that don't become visible until you begin to sand rough areas. Bubbles that were below the surface of the resin as it hardened cause a honeycomb effect beneath the skin of your model. Sanding can often reveal these flaws which are easily repaired with thinned putty. Many times you can spot these problem areas before sanding by holding parts up in front of a bright light and looking for thin spots. If the depth of the flaw is too great, you can clean out the honeycomb with a motor tool and fill the resulting hole with Milliput A+B epoxy putty. Using Milliput will also give you a chance to resculpt any surface detail that was lost.

Reference materials play an important part in this pre-assembly stage as well. Although most garage kits build up into good representations of their subjects, there are often some details missing. If complete or at least near complete accuracy is important to you, then back issues of Science Fiction and Monster movie magazines will become an important part of your modeling reference library.

Assembly

More than with most standard kits, dry fitting parts on a garage kit is essential. You will often find that surfaces that are supposed to mate, don't exactly match. You will have to sand and shape mating surfaces to match each other. This is a result of the "non-professional" nature of the casting process in garage kits. Most casters do their absolute best to deliver an accurate kit, but every part doesn't always match up. Test fitting and shaping are the best way to assure proper fit.

3A. Draw an "X" on the mating surface
part to be joined to determine the
center of the surface. Drill locating
hole for pin at the center of the "X".

3B. Holding the part in place, use the overlapping
of the "X" to mark corresponding points on the second
part. Use these points to make a duplicate "X" on
the second part.

3C. Super glue the pin, in this case
a section of a paper clip, into the
hole in the center of the "X".

3D. Locate the pin in the hold drilled in the mating part.

3E. Even after sanding and shaping, gaps can
remain between assembled parts.

Since most mating surfaces are smooth and without male/female locators, pinning parts together for strength is another important part of assembly. The trick to pinning accurately is finding the center of both parts in order to locate the pins. After you have shaped both mating surfaces so they match up to your satisfaction, draw an "X" on the mating surface of one of the parts. Be sure that the "X" overlaps the mating surface so you can see its outer legs when the parts are placed together. When you place the two parts together, mark the location of the legs on the second part. Now you have reference markings to make a second "X" on the mating surface of the that part. When you drill holes at the center of the two "Xs", the holes should line up with each other. Using super glue, affix a small piece of wire (a piece of paper clip works well here) into one hole. After it is dry and secure, test fit again before finally gluing the part in place.

Of course, super glue is an absolute necessity for assembling any resin kit, but 5 minute epoxy can come in handy for attaching parts that still have gaps even after all the sanding and shaping is done. The epoxy helps to fill the gaps from within and provides a strong joint. Any remaining gaps can be handled with gap filling super glue or model putty. However if the surface you're filling needs detailing to match surrounding areas, Milliput Epoxy Putty becomes indispensable. As the two-part putty sets up, you can detail it and blend the edges into a seamless surface. It also comes in handy for replacing details that have been lost in casting or filling the larger holes caused by large bubbles in the resin. Milliput is very user friendly, it is easily worked and smoothed with water and it holds detail well.

4A,4B. Front and back views of assembled Ymir show areas
where Milliput was used to fill gaps and replace lost detail.

Naturally, all these problems won't appear in every kit and as casting materials and techniques improve, so will the quality of these small-run kits. Once you've assembled your garage kit, you're ready to move on to the most rewarding part of the process, the painting.

Painting

Resin kits accept nearly any kind of paint you'd use on a styrene kit; enamels, acrylics, lacquers or oils, or any combination. On the other hand, vinyl kits can be very picky about paint and it's best to stick with the water-based acrylics since enamels and oils won't fully dry on a vinyl surface. Once your figure is primed, you can test nearly every painting technique you know. A monster's surface practically cries out for washes, dry brushing, blending and shading or any other tricks you can think of. It's all up to you.

4C. The finished, painted creature standing with
reference material xeroxed from books and magazines.
Reference material is important to restoring lost
details and assuring the accuracy of the final piece.

Bases and Dioramas

Although there is a new trend toward including "Aurora" style bases in recent garage kits, many kits come as "stand alone" figures. Depending upon how much space you have to display your creations, you may want to create your own base or create a diorama to show off your creature. Bases can range from a simple stained wooden plaque to a landscaped, themed base that reflects your creation's environment. Of course, dioramas for these creatures will let your imagination run wild.

5A. The elements of a simple diorama.
Styrofoam blocks, shaped into columns
with sand paper will be covered with
plaster to duplicate a stone surface.
Airfix multi-pose soldiers used in the
scene help provide scale to the creature
and add detail to the base.

5B. The final piece based on a scene from the
movie 20,000,000 Miles To Earth where the Ymir
smashes the pillars in the Temple of Saturn in
Rome during a confrontation with soldiers.

If you're ready to take the plunge into the world of garage kits, you are now prepared to take your Science Fiction and Horror dreams and nightmares and build them into a reality.

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The Gremlins in the Garage webzine is a production of Firefly Design. If you have any questions or comments please get in touch.

Copyright 1994-1997 Firefly Design.