Confessions of an AMS Survivor

(December 2020)

It’s like this, I keep having these urges.  It’s as if some strange alien entity has got into the back of my mind and keeps pushing and pushing, wanting me to do things that I don’t want to do.  Dirty, crazy, unimaginable things.

I think it might be an alien invasion, like the movie ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ in which aliens take over the bodies of ordinary people, people you’d see at a competition or a swap and sell, ordinary looking people you wouldn’t look twice at or suspect that there was anything wrong with them.  There are tell tale signs if you know how to spot them, the ones clustered around the stalls selling the decal sets or the after-market and detailing sets for example, they might have been snatched by aliens.  They’re the ones that have been taken over.  They are the ones with a touch of crazy in their eyes who mutter incomprehensible phrases and the names of strange, European modellers.

You can hear them is you listen out for phrases on their conversations.  Vaguely sleezy, suggestive words and phrases such as ‘Shading’, ‘pin-wash’ or ‘pastels’ that make you feel just a little bit dirty.  If you hear phrases like that you know those are people to stay away from because they’ve been taken over, and you could be too if you associate with them.  And those You Tube videos on modelling techniques, don’t watch them!  At first you will be curious, you’ll think that your model could be made to look a little better if only you try this or that little technique.  Just a little one, there can’t be any harm in that.  But, before you know yourself you’ll be mainlining the Spanish School and so deep into the mire that you’ll never free yourself.  What about those internet forums and facebook pages, they are also ways in which this insidious alien invader can take over your brain and leave you only the husk of what was once a happy modeller.  Instead of making models you’ll find yourself spending your bench time applying washes, fretting till your brain is about to burst with the benefits of pre and post shading, tonal variations and the rest of those vile techniques that are all insidiously turning you from a modeller into a finisher.  And those modelling clubs, if you want to be taken over by this alien obsession you will find yourself going to a place from which no modeller returns sane.

Trust me, I know what I’m writing about.  I’ve been there, I’ve had Advanced Modellers Syndrome.  I’ve spent endless and pointless hours doing ‘research’, scratch building, modifying, correcting, weathering and chipping.  I know what it’s like, the possession, the obsession and the madness.

I can tell you when it started, when I moved to Canberra in 1980 and joined the local model club.  When I lived in Melbourne the club was on the other side of town so I didn’t go but in Canberra the club met only a few blocks from where I worked so I could work back a bit and then go straight to a club meeting.  But, unbeknown to me, one, or several, of the club members had already been taken over by this alien obsession and it also invaded my mind without me knowing it.

At first I didn’t notice it, or should I say that the effect this conversion had on me was masked by other things.  I was working a full time job and studying part time so I didn’t have much time for modelling so the effects of this alien invasion were not really evident, at first.  But gradually the obsessions started to manifest themselves, the obsessive collection of research materials, buying more paint than I would ever need and the search for more and exotic modelling tools.  Worse of all was the attention to cockpit details, the search for the perfect rigging material and the ceasless worry about authentic colours and scale colour.  Perhaps the first most obvious manifestations were in my attempts to make a decent model of a BAC Lightning from the Matchbox kit, but I felt empowered and a better modeller from these things and nobody told me what these new urges really meant and where they would surely lead.  To compound an already desperate situation I began entering competitions and knew the thrill of winning, the despair or losing and the drive to make better and better models to win more and lose less.  What a pitiful wretch I had become.

By the time I had completed my undergraduate studies as ANU the alien inside me was so strong that I welcomed the additional spare time I had to give free and full reign to these new urges.  I need to remind younger modellers that this was the mid 1980s when aftermarket and detailing kits were unknown and replacement decal sets rare.  On the other hand, kits were relatively primitive and the best of the time were the Monogram and Otaki 1/48 kits which are these days spurned as unmakeable.  So if a modeller wanted to detail a cockpit it had to be scratch built, kit modifications were made with crash moulded or balsa wood parts and the obsessed modeller cruised the craft and hardware shops in search of anything that could contribute to their addiction.  So when I made the award winning Monogram 1/48 F-14 it had a full cockpit, completely scratch built with vastly improved kit ejector seats and modifications and corrections to just about every part of the model.  The cockpit canopy was probably my crowning achievement with interior and exterior masking, pipework, mirrors and, best of all, the tiny locking latches that I still dream about occasionally.  Or perhaps those dreams are a vestige of those long suppressed urge.

I no longer have any of the 1/48 models but I do have some of the 1/72 ones that I made during this period.  I’m showing them to you, not because of any pride in the workmanship they display but as a warning to young modellers, not to do as I have done, for you’ll spent your lives in sin and misery in the house of the advanced modellers syndrome.  Instead, let these few examples of my own modelling debauchery warn others against following the same path into the sink hole of despair where I found myself.

            This is where the sickness started.  I recall going to a club meeting some time in early 1985 where a modeller proudly proclaimed that he had super-detailed a model of the F4U.  I looked at it and thought to myself, ‘That’s not super-detailed.  I’ll show you what super-detailed really means.’  So set to work on the Hawegawa 1/72 kit of the F4U-1D.  In those days there were no fabulous after-market sets for dropped flaps and all that so all the separated parts, and I don’t think I left a part unseparated including the cowling grills, had to be scratch built.  The only after-market products used on this kit were the Microscale decals.

            Then I spent the best part of 1986 working on this Matchbox 1/72 Handley Page Halifax B.I, and boy did it need a lot of work.  (It still does, but after-market sets will help a lot.)  This model needed a lot of weathering but back then there were no weathering products, pastels, oils and all that stuff, so everything had be done with brushes and enamel paints.

            Having achieved that feat I went completely mad and decided to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear with the Airfix 1/72 Blohm und Voss Bv141.  Those of you who know this kit will know that the cockpit pod has vast acres of glass but virtually nothing inside, so the challenge was to research and then scratch build the entire cockpit, including scratch built seats, ribbing, the whole works.  I was particularly proud of this until one of the seats came adrift just as I was finishing this one model, so it’s not as perfect as I had intended it to be.

            After this heroic effort I decided to take it easy and build the Red Star 1/72 Yak-3.  Those of you with very long memories will remember that it was rumored this was one of a set of four Russian aircraft moulded by Frog before that company went broke.  The moulds then disappeared into Russia and emerged as a brown cardboard box with each of the four of the kits in it.  I thought the rumour was right, the kits were good honest workmanship for their time but very basic.  All it really needed was a completely scratch built cockpit and some work to reduce the coarseness of the mouldings.  What is not obvious about this model is that we were packing to move from Canberra to Perth at the time and a big box fell in the almost completed model, so it had been reconstructed from the wreck that I found when I lifted up the box with shaking hands.

            The next model I put effort into was the Airfix 1/72 Douglas F4D-1, an excellent kit by the standards of 1976 but not so flash now.  By then we were living in Perth and I had started on my PhD, but the madness was still on me so I decided to see what a F4D would look like with the wings folded.  Again, all the modifications are scratch built and only the decals come from an after-market set.  I’m planning to make some more F4D’s one day but now I have four lovely Tamiya kits in my collection for that project.

            After this model you might say that my standards have dropped, that is if you have been taken over by the alien force that is AMS.  Instead, I’d say that the next model, a modest Italeri 1/72 RF-4C I made almost entirely straight out of the box, saw me on the road to recovery.  A now I’m cured.  I can make a kit straight out of the box with almost no qualms about its errors and defincieies.  If I don’t feel like doing anything about a simple cockpit I go to ‘Plan B’ which is to paint everything in there black.  If there is an alleged problem with accuracy I tell myself that the finished model will look more like whatever-it-is than a Stuka (unless I’m making a Stuka) and as for brake linings on undercarriage legs and drilled out gun barrels, who cares!  I can make thirty or forty models a year and gaze upon them happily, knowing that they look nice and look more or less like the aeroplanes they are supposed to represent.  There’s no weathering, no chipping, no post-shading, not a rescribed panel line in sight, none of that other fancy stuff that those who have been taken over by the alien entities preach on facebook and you tube.  My models are unsullied by any washes, grime, pastels or oils, just as the folk at Airfix, Frog and Monogram intended when they invented plastic scale model kits all those eons ago.

What happened to save me from the horrors of this alien obsession?  I’m not sure.  I speculate that the alien obsession withered away and died while I was doing other things like getting a PhD, teaching and doing some commissioned research and writing.  Or perhaps it’s not an alien invasion that took people, perhaps it’s an alien virus of some kind and the severe bout of Advanced Modellers Syndrome that I caught in the 1980s made me immune when the major virus attack that seems to have overcome the entire modelling fraternity occurred some time later.  All I can tell you is that all the inducements to buy more modelling products and experiment with them that we are exposed to these days just bounce off and have no effect on me.  Sure, I strive to make my models look as good as the contents of the kit box will allow, and have had a soul searching experience with the new brands of modelling paints recently, but as for the temptation to smear all kinds of modelling product on a nice new model, I can’t see the point.  I feel sorry for those who have been taken over by these alien obsessions, but there’s no point in fighting them, they seem to enjoy doing whatever their alien obsession drives them to.  I’m free of it all, and a happier modeller as a result.

And still …  I have been known to do a tiny wash here and there, just to bring out some highlights.  I’ve also been known to do just a touch of tonal variation on large areas of monotone colour.  And I have an extensive collection of aftermarket decal sheets, but I keep them in a box in the garage and try not to think about them too much.  I did give in to temptation and buy aftermarket white metal undercarriage legs for my A.320s, telling myself that was necessary because the kit plastic undercarriage legs were too weak and frequently broke off during construction.  In a moment of weakness I have been known to use some of the etch parts that come in kits these days and I gave in to temptation one time and bought the detail set for a 1/72 Gulfstream V which I will get around to making one of these days.  But apart from that, I’ve got it under control, the urges I mean.  Even when I’m looking at the BNA web site, just because I need some more paint you understand, nothing more, I avert my eyes from any detail sets that might be advertised.

But look, there’s a nice etch metal set of rigging for the Airfix 1/72 Tiger Moth, there wouldn’t be any harm in buying that, would there?  I wonder if anyone makes the Gipsy Major engine for it, that would look cool displayed with the cowling removed.  And, what about a full interior …..  Hold on!  What am I thinking?

Where’s that Advanced Modellers Syndrome Help Line number again.

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