This particular modeling project started not with wanting to reproduce the miniature but rather because Jay Thurman made this absolutely amazing 3D model of the Assault Scout in Sketchup (pictured here). In fact, I liked this model so much that we used it to create the cover for issue 9 of the Frontier Explorer. I decided that I wanted a large version of this to sit on my desk. So I started working on printing the model on the 3D printer at work. My goal was to print a 4″ model. The printer is capable of handing a 6″ version but that is much more costly and I wanted to make sure everything was working before I committed to that. (And some day I might actually print it. But for now, I’m quite happy with how the 4″ one turned out.)
I actually looked at printing this model a couple of different ways. Because of the shape at the back end of the ship and all the details that Jay included (you can see them on the model page linked above) I wasn’t sure that printing it tail down would actually work. Also, those laser guns are really tiny and I knew from the experience of printing the Sathar Destroyer, that the printer would not be able to handle those small pieces printed vertically.
The other problem was that the vertical fins on the wings were just too small. In looking at previews of the print there were lots and lots of gaps in the fins no matter what I did. To fix this, I gave myself a crash course on Sketchup, which I had never used before, and went into the model and made them thicker so that they would print.
So my first thought was to print this model in two pieces. Slice it down the middle and print the top and bottom halves and glue them together. So that’s what I did to start and printed out the top half of the model (the bit pictured in the image above). As you can see in the image to the right, this worked fairly well. The laser cannons even printed but they are really thin. In fact, by the time I got them home, the top half of the lasers had been all bent out of shape and one had broken off. I cut the other one off before painting and it still looked really nice. Also, the vertical fins on the wings printed but were still very thin.
However, in looking closely at this print, I didn’t really like the surface texture. Since I was printing in 0.2mm vertical resolution, there were definite ridges that you can see on the surface, especially in the nose of the ship (click on the image to expand to full size and see it. The image isn’t the best but that bit at least is in focus, just with very little contrast). This could probably have been sanded out but I didn’t really like it so I decided to try printing standing up.
In this scenario, I knew I was going to lose the laser guns no matter what so to avoid any problem, I just went into sketchup and removed them. They aren’t part of the “canon” design of the ship but were something Jay added so I didn’t feel too bad about them not being there. I also thickened the fins a bit more as well.
To the right is a picture of the printed model. The bits of material you see underneath the fuselage and engines are support material added to allow those parts to print, something avoided completely in the first printing. This isn’t the best picture (I hadn’t planned on posting these when I took them) but you can see that the surface of the ship is much smoother in this orientation than in the other. I was quite happy with this one. There is support material to be removed but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. My biggest worry was what that support material would do to the back of the engines and body as there is printed detail back there. So let’s remove it and see.
Getting the support material off was mostly easy but gave me a bit of a hassle, especially where the supports were small or attached to small details. This wasn’t completely cleaned up when I snapped the picture as you can see some small bits of support materials still attached. Let’s see what we’ve got.
Well, those engines are supposed to have a honeycomb pattern on them which doesn’t show up too well. I actually cleaned this up a little more before I painted it and it looks better but the detail was just too fine when printed in this orientation for it to show up completely. The back of the main fuselage, however, looks pretty good. Overall I’m quite happy with the outcome, especially since you won’t really see this part of the model.
A Third Print
After the 0.2mm print completed, I wanted to try printing it at 0.1mm resolution to see what the difference would be. We were still printing at 0.1mm at the time (we stopped shortly after I made this print because the prints kept failing) so I got the job in the queue and got it started. The 0.2 mm prints take about 2.5 hours and printing at 0.1 mm took even longer.
As you can see in the picture, it didn’t quite work. It was almost done (about 4 hours in) and for some reason the printer just stopped extruding plastic leaving the upper 3/8″ of the nose uncompleted.
You also notice that there is much more support structure crawling up the side of the print on this one than there was on the 0.2mm print. I’m not exactly sure why that is. This print also required me to add a raft to the print job as the first few times we were printing, the print nozzle would catch on the little bits at the back of the wings and pop them off, ruining the print. The raft held everything in place and prevented that from happening.
Overall, it turned out the detail wasn’t much better on this print than on the 0.2 mm print. There are improvements but they are not that significant so when I printed several of these off for friends (including one for Jay) I used the 0.2 mm print resolution.
Because the failure in this case was so clean, I was able to save the print. I simply went in and cut the model at the correct point and then printed out the tip of the nose. I then sanded the model above to make the top flat and then superglued the two pieces together. I miss judged the cut point slightly – the nose was a little bigger in diameter than where the failure occurred but a little sand paper and it’s all smooth. I don’t have a picture of this one. You can see the joint (as I was using a black sandpaper and some of the color rubbed off) but if you close your eyes and feel it, you can’t tell. If I ever paint it, you’d never know the difference.
Time to Paint
With the printing done, it was time to paint. I decided to paint the first and second prints and leave the third one unpainted. My plan was to use the first half model as practice and then make the second, full model the final version. I started by painting both with a gray primer and then painting the bodies all white. You can see them side by side below, with the full model on the left. Once painted you can really see the difference in surface texture. It was really obvious with just the gray primer coat but that picture didn’t turn out very well so you get to see them with just the white body coat. You can also see the trimmed laser guns on the half model.
For the first, half model, I did all the painting completely freehand. I wasn’t going for a real high quality paint job but rather to get a feel for the paint scheme I wanted and what it would take to do that. I was modeling my paint scheme mostly on the colors used in Jay’s model but with a few variations based on some of the other assault scout images from the Star Frontiers materials. Once the first model was painted and I had a plan for the final one, I set to work on that model.
On the final model, I wanted the lines to be as sharp as I could get them so I used making tape to mask of the regions I wanted to paint and then filled them in. Here you can see the completed half model along with a start on the second final model.
Masking off the red line along the back of the ship was a pain. There are all these changes of direction and surface features and you have to go up and back down the fins. I got it done but it didn’t work as well as I had hoped. I had to go back and very carefully touch up the lines with white paint over the bits that bled out of where I wanted it.
The other bit that was difficult was painting the bit down in the circular depression on the engines. I actually think I did a better job on the half model then I achieved on the full model. But getting the black and silver just right was hard due to the printed features. It would probably have been easier to paint had it just been a flat surface.
I also changed the colors slightly and instead of using orange around the features on the upper fuselage, I used gold. I think that looks even better. I also considered going with a gold tip on the nose as well but in the end stayed with the red. In the end, I was quite pleased with the result. Especially since it is really only my second attempt ever at painting a small model. It could use some improvement but that will come with practice. Here is the final model, completely painted:
I think I touched it up just a little more after taking this picture as the edges in the end were a little sharper.
Putting the Prototype to Good Use
I hadn’t really planned on doing much with the half model once I was done but my 3-year-old had other plans. He loves playing with my “rocket ship” and is always asking to play with it. So it has become one of his favorite toys (nothing can replace his trains though). If fact, he can get quite distressed when we can’t find it. He plays with it so much that the paint has worn off a bit and I should probably touch it up. He’s also managed to break off the laser guns and parts of the fins (I knew they were too skinny).
So even though it wasn’t a complete success from the printing and modeling point of view, it has been a great success for him. When I let him play with some of my other miniature prints, he has rocket battles with them. And he’s really good about returning the other models back to my table in my office where I’m working on painting them.
Making the miniature
The next step was to make a miniature in the scale of the other game minis. I was going to cover that in this post as well but it’s long enough already so I’ll save that for next time.
As always, feel free to post question, comments, or suggestions below. Especially if there are specific aspects of creating and printing the models you want me to talk about.
Categorised as: 3D Modeling/Printing