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The Artifact

Project start October 2023

A while back, I posted a big critter build I referred to as a draconic experiment, since it was just that in preparation of a bigger project. Well, this is it. Due to far too many real life distractions, I got to work on it far too late, since there's hard deadline on 2024-01-14, but we'll see...

Real-life context: The first meeting of the local IPMS chapter is traditionally at the LHS, and the owner always specifies a theme for the informal competition. For 2024, that theme is Fokker DXXI, and the owner generously handed out the 1/72 PM kit to anyone wanting to take part in the competition. The thing is, I couldn't possibly care less about the Fokker DXXI. So, I'm going to cheat like crazy. The jury for the competition consists of the wife of the owner, and occasionally his daughter. And I just happen to know the wife's got a thing for dragons, especially purple ones (really BIG thing; she had a full scale hot air balloon custom built in the shape of a purple dragon). I happen to think dragons are a lot more interesting than the Fokker. The rules say that Fokker has to be in there somewhere, and recognisable as such. There's absolutely no rule saying it has to be in remotely airworthy condition, or that you can't hand it over to a dragon..

Backstory: In the late 1930s, Hitler's obsession with supernatural forces paid off, and his cronies, with typical subtlety and diplomatic finesse, janked open the door to a larger reality. The folks, and I use that term broadly, for few even resembled humans, on the other side of the door were distinctly unamused by this most uncouth intrusion into their affairs, and sent a largish delegation to explain this in some detail. Or, to put it more bluntly, sent back a host that beat the everloving crap out of anyone and anything that showed the slightest bit of attitude in record time. Peace and quiet so restored, and Earth as we know it swiftly annexed, time passed as it rather stubbornly insists on doing. Centuries after the annexation, a prominent archeologist has tracked down an artifact from what became known as the Age of Monkeys..

What? You thought that dragons spent their millenia long lifespans dozing on a pile of gems and precious metals, occasionally going on a trip to torch the countryside and snack on some virgins. Puh-lease, that gets so incredibly, mind numbingly boring after a few years.. Hobbies and academic interests rule! I also have a model somewhere of a dragon that is, with intense concentration, painting a model. I'll get around to that one eventually.

Back to the model.
The PM Fokker will be there, of course, but my (probably overambitious) plan is to reduce it to a mostly rotted skeleton, pulled out of a bog by a big ol' dragon with a fondness for history and a knack for earth moving magicks (it takes forever to get muck off your claws, and shovels are clumsy). Cast in the role of our dragon is Citadel's Great Spined Dragon, a model from the late 80s that clocks in a 300 grams of 'eavy metal (as Citadel used to call it), even without the wings. It was a gift from a fellow modeler a few years back, since he had no idea what to do with the critter. I warned him at the time that I suspected he might be giving away a very valuable model. Neither of us realised that the 15 pound sticker price is now just a few percent of the price collectors will pay.
Silly collectors, models are made to be built..
To give an idea of how big this dragon is, a rough layout shot:

The airplane in the picture is not the one that will end up in the actual vignette, but a roughly thrown together 3D print of the same subject. It will never be finished, but will help me build up the base, in particular the crater it will sit in.
The core on the base is 10mm plywood, with the angled rims also courtesy of the 3D printer (when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail..). In the picture, they were still loose, but the've since been glued to the plywood. There will be a second pice of plywood just below the level of the rims, with scenery mats on top of that, and an unnaturally round crater still at the botom level for the wreck to sit in.

The dragon has had it's head, right rear leg, and tail attached, with heavy duty PU glue and with the tail heavily pinned. The head extends a bit below the feet, so it has to sit on something. This is complicated by the fact that the base bits around it's feet are not all in the same plane, and no amount of twisting could convince them otherwise. It will have to sit on something rounded. I found a design for a rock, actually a standing stone, that is close enough to serve as a base to build a dragon-compatible rock from. It is my intention to leave the rock loose from the rest of the base, and the actual dragon loose from the rock, to allow display under different conditions, as well as possible recycling of the dragon at some point, although it won't be a great drama is the dragon and rock become inseparable.

The kit provides the fingers of the wings, but not the skin between them. Instead, templates are supplied to cut the skin from paper. The fingers were badly bent, but due to the softness of the metal, it was quite easy to bend them back into the proper shape. Using paper for the skin between them would look absurdly thin on a dragon this large, so I need something beefier. I'm thinking chamois leather should do the trick (dragon wings are usually described as leathery, and nothing is more leathery than leather), but whether it will cooperate remains to be seem.

Both because of the rarety of the model, and the short time left for the job, I want to be absolutely sure I don't mess up the painting of the dragon. So, there will be a second test subject. Like the earlier dragon, it's base colour will be Tamiya Gold Leaf, but I've added a duller metal colour (no point in mentioning specifics, since its from a bad batch of gold paint, but in a true Bob Ross style happy accident, it seems like just the thing for dragon skin base or the odd weathered statue) to the undersides. I'll be overcoating with the actual Hot Metal Violet intended for the big one to make sure it works out once the extra paint I ordered arrives.

In the mean time, here's the current state of 'junior': If his left rear foot looks a bit off, that's because it is a crudely built prostetic, since he suffered some damage in transport. As can be seen, I've made a start at reshaping the rock the big one will be sitting on with hacksaw and milliput.

I starting the think the PM kit will escape most of my abuse. A few months ago I bought the files for this rendition of the Fokker. My initial plan was to use a quick and dirty print for visualisation, and base some damaged parts on it, but it now looks like I'll do the entire airplane (well, what's left of it) from these files. I don't have anything worth posting a render of yet, but so far I'm having a blast modifying and "assembling" the parts digitally. Once I've got them as beat up as I want, I'll do a render and, more importantly, see what the printer will make of the results.

The digital butchery is done.
The front section of the fuselage was covered in sheet metal, and should survive being buried for a long time better than the fabric covered parts. The ribbing is by no means accurate, but will perhaps be sufficient to suggest the real thing at this small scale. I left off most of the control surfaces, assuming those would become separated from the main part.
Now, the next big, and quite literal question is: what will the printer make of all this.
I think part of one of the wings and UC pants will be chopped off at a later stage, mechanically. I'll probably have some vegetable junk hanging off the ribs at some point. Of course, everything will be covered in dark brown dirt, and the overall colour of the remains of the plane will be horribly rotted brown.
The mail delivered several bags of pre-fab papier mache today. If this stuff works out, I'll be using it to sculpt the crater the plane will sit in from. A different parcel held the 'hot metal violet' intended for the dragon.

"Junior" has really earned it's upkeep, but not necessarily in a good way. As I'd done earlier with Hot Metal Red, I started misting on multiple layers of HM Violet over the gold. It doesn't work. After a few layers gold+violet becomes grubby grey. I could build up the violet more, but the end result is close to fully opaque purple, which is not what I wanted.
So, I bullied another dragon into modelling for me, this time with a base of AK Extreme Metal Aluminium over black base. A much better result, in my opinion, although vastly different from the red-and-gold. This one, frankly, looks cold and menacing, which is not necessarily a bad look for a dragon.
It's fiendishly hard to capture these colours on camera, my apologies for the dubious quality.

Meanwhile, I had some decent progress on the decayed plane. The ribbing is clearly too coarse, but I hope it will do when dirtied up some.
I managed to lose the engine cowling somehow, so I've had to make do with an earlier, non-hollowed print. Since the plane will end up nose down, I'm not too worried about it, but printing a part only to lose it is still embarrassing..

Not nearly enough activity lately, but let's see what a desperate last minute scramble can achieve..
The dragon's rock is nearing completion. The exterior is now mostly Milliput, dabbed down with the rough side of a kitchen sponge to create a rather nice rocky surface. The shape now mostly matches the 'stone slabs' underneath the dragon's feet. It will need some further finishing touches, but I won't need the dragon for that, which means I can start working on the wings.
After some additional measurements I marked out the location of the crater and scattered spacers over the rest of the bottom surface. The upper deck will rest on these. Most of the top deck will be covered by scenery mats I purchased. They're not cheap, but they are very pretty.
By now, the rim of the base has been given it's coat of somewhat glossy black. I almost forgot this step, realising only at the last minute I had to do this before building the scenery.
I played around with the pre-fab papier-mache, and made a sort of test crater out of it. This particular experiment, although messier than I like, seems to have worked out, so the real crater will be built with a similar process. The tubes of acrylics I bought to paint the crater with have also passed muster. Whatever else comes of this, I'll have plenty of dark, thick mud to play with.

The wings have been attached to the dragon, and it's beginning to show just how big this beasty is..
There were quite heavy mould lines on the wings, and cleanup was considerably complicated by the long, thin fingers of soft and malleable metal. Filing metal without applying any significant force is a challenge, and even sanding filler isn't the usual breeze.

Time for some scary steps that had the potential to make or break the project..
First was making the crater in which the wreckages sits, out of papier-mache. I'd done a small test shot, but it was still anybody's guess if it would work out at a larger size, and once that blob of sticky gunk landed on the base, there was no turning back or taking back mistakes.
I'm not entirely happy with the result, the bottom is too even. I might mix up some more papier-mache and make some extra mess tomorrow.
More of a gamble were the chamois wings.
I ended up fixing the chamois of the first section to the bones on one side with contact adhesive. This held the chamois in the correct location, which effectively freed up one or more hands for the next step, which was 'point welding' the other edge with dabs of CA and accellerator. Between them, these two glues hold and shape the membrane. Finally, the entire connecting line was given a generous helping of PVA glue, to provide the actual strength for the bond, and to fill the inevitable gaps (this is the same stuff that is sold at outrageous prices for making small windows on model vehicles).
It's a bit involved, but I really like the result. Only five more sections to go..
Now I just have to hope it still looks good after a shot of primer..

I've completed, for now, the work on the skin between the wing fingers.
Only the left outer panel put up any kind of real fight, and I had to replace it with a different shaped one. All panels have been given a coat of PVA glue, in preparation for painting tomorrow. Chamois is soft, and in it's intended use will soak up crazy amounts of liquids, so I'm guessing sealing with glue will be beneficial..
The inspection after priming is going to be absolutely terrifying.
I've used Junior and the second test head for a final experiment, to determine a workable colour for all those spikes, horns, and whetever else is sticking out. I ended up with titanium white with minute amounts of raw umber and burned sienna. The colour works, the paint did not; the white had separated, with most of the pigment sinking to the bottom of the tube. With a very light colour going over a dark one, that's trouble. I'll have to see if I can revive the acrylic I used for the test, is not I may revert to oils.

Priming the big guy showed some nasties with the wing panels; some parts were beautifully smooth, while others remained course. The rough spots seem to have far less interest in accepting paint. I think the rough parts are the places where I missed, or did not hit hard enough, with the PVA, as it was not easy to tell during application. With the increased visibility from the primer, I'm now in the process of putting on a second layer of PVA.

The second helping of PVA, along with some minimal filler, did the trick. This gave me a dull grey dragon, but I'm not looking for a grey dragon.
So, I went to work with first Hataka 'Jet Black' on the wings and a quick whif over the body, followed by Mig A-stand gloss black primer on the body.
This gave me a nice black dragon, but I'm not looking for a black dragon either, so to be continued as soon as the gloss black stops being tacky.

A quick blast of AK Extreme Metal Aluminium gave me an absurdly shiny silver dragon, but I'm not looking for a silver dragon.
This concludes the routine paintwork. The final step with the violet filter should, at long last, give me the colour I am looking for, but it will be more challenging; it can't be an even coat, and for any given spot there is a balance point somewhere between too little and too much violet.
On the other hand, it does lend itself to slowly building up the finish over multiple coats, even at full blast it takes a while to build up to solid purple. The real key is to avoid thinking "this is taking too damn long, blast it for real" because at that point, you will have built it up just enough for that good solid blast to result in solid coverage and ruin the lot.

I just got back from the paintshop for the umpteenth time today, and this time they gave me a purple dragon. And I am looking for a purple dragon.
I guess I can stop shooting different colours onto the beasty now.
It's not yet done of course, at the very least it will need a coat of sealer and all of those spikes, horn, claws, what have you will have to be given a contrasting colour, but so far, so good.

My remark about being done with different colours might have been a bit premature..
Taking full advantage of our daily alotment of ten minutes of daylight (ok, that's exaggerated, so sue me) I did another inspection of the paintwork, and found that some parts didn't even have a hint of purple.
In the process, I managed to drop the dragon. Fortunately and rather miraculously it survived with no more damage than a bent finger, which was quickly bent back into position. A degree of flexibility can really save the day.
I also decided it is entirely too shiny. Don't get me wrong, shiny is fine, but when taken to the level where you can't see the details on the scuplture for all the glitter, it's gone too far. Once again, my test head was volunteered to see what some matt varnish does with the issue.
The gaps in the purple have been fixed (I think/hope), and it looks like the varnish will create a rather fetching satin shine.

The dragon is being a handfull. It's big, it's heavy, and it's wings and front leg are entirely too flimsy. As a result, many places are nearly impossible to reach with a brush, it's extremely hard to to get a stable grip on it, and putting any amount of force on the leg or wings will bend them. The wings are rather free form, a slight change of position doesn't matter all that much, but that front leg needs to stay lined up with the rock it's going to be sitting on.
It doesn't really help that almost white won't cover dark purple in a single coat, so misery is multiplied by at least two..

I think I might add Junior to the vignette; plenty of room, and after all that hard work, a well deserved field trip with the master might be in order.
I struggling a bit with the horns and spikes. Ususlly, I find white to be too stark for claws and such, but it doesn't seem so bad against the purple. I just hope I can keep the number of coats down, as the quality of my paint work tends to drop sharply as the number of coats increases.
Just out of curiosity, I put the dragon on the kitchen scales. That's just over half a kilo of critter ..

Meanwhile, back at the pit, things have gotten grossly muddy..

Circumstances beyond my control, or to be more honest, that I failed to control properly, force me to call this done.
The plan was to use UV ink to create a ring of runes around the inner edge of the crater, but this step/detail/gimmick is not going anywhere. The inks perform reaonably well, although not as good as I'd hoped. However, the papier mache has dried with deep cracks along the edge of the inner walls and the floor of the crater. In principle, I like this; it reinforces the effect of the hole not having been dug, but ripped out of the ground by magic. Problem is, you just can't get to the bottom of the cracks, so there are some unpainted, and therefore white spots at the bottom. Even beyond those cracks, the rough surface of the papier mache is full of little depressions which can be reached with a brush, but are very hard to spot under normal conditions. Under UV lighting, they stand out like a very sore thumb (think white shirt under blacklight). So, any attempt to bring out runes or other gimmicks with UV light have the horrible side effect of mercilessly pointing out every imperfection in the paintwork of the crater as well. On the balance, the errors detract more than the runes would add, so this is where it ends.

Finishing materials:

Motip primer overall
Hataka 'Jet Black' wings
Mig A-stand gloss black primer body
AK Extreme Metal Aluminium overall
Mig A-stand Hot Metal Violet overall

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