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Friday, July 29, 2011

Soviet ZiS 3 76mm Anti-Tank Gun

This is a nice artillery piece introduced by Italeri. It is a 76mm Soviet Anti-Tank gun. This set was released a couple of years back and it filled a huge gap in the WWII 1/32 plastic toy soldier world. In addition to the gun itself, the set contains a crew in a good variety of poses. The Soviets produced these guns from 1942 onwards in massive quantities (over 100,000) and with a 76mm round, they were capable of piercing any German Tank prior to the Tiger I and the Panther. The Soviets were known for deploying large belts of anti tank defensive positions in depth which would wear down the German armored offensive capabilities and would leave them ripe for T-34 counterattacks, which is how they managed to stop the largest ever tank offensive at Kursk. The pictures below depict this gun in a street fighting scenario, as the Red Army pushed west and retook its cities.

The gunner and the leader prepare to fire another round as the rest of the crew works hard to keep the ammunition supply flowing.

This is what the German vehicles would be facing as they came around the corner.

This perspective affords a better view of the action as well as an unusual detail in the scene.
Can you spot it?

Click here to see some pictures of Soviet Infantry in action.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

British Infantry - Part I

Here is a peek into what I am currently working on. It is a painted set of 50 British Infantry figures. As you might recall, I like to keep the poses unique and sometimes not all the poses from a given manufacturer 'make the cut' as far as the quality of the sculpting. You might also notice that I am only painting 50 figures instead of 100 as I did with some of the other sets. This is partly due to time constraints, partly because there aren't that many unique poses for this country/branch of the military, and partly because playing a war-game with 100 figures + vehicles, tends to take quite a bit of time, so 50 seems a good number. Another thing to note is that this is an expansion from about 12 figures that I had originally painted about 10 years back, and therefore you might see some of them at different stages of painting. As far as when they will be done, I am not sure as lately I have been doing a lot more blogging and a lot less painting, but eventually you will be able to see the finished product. Alright, so let's get to it.

Airfix British Infantry
Except for the guy who is standing firing, these poses are very dynamic. One of my favorite sets. They are also among the original squad that I had painted a few years back. That was before I learned how to give them their protective coats, so over the years they got chipped and needed a touch-up. You might also notice a glossy finish which I don't really like. By the time I am done, it will be gone. The other thing that will change is that originally all the webbing for their equipment was beige, but I later noticed that British Infantry also had green webbing, so I decided to switch to that color.

Airfix British Infantry Heavy Weapons Set
As you can see, only a subset of the figures are represented here.

Atlantic British Infantry
There are 10 figures in the original set, but some of them are a bit stiff, and some of them, like the guy carrying his wounded buddy shown in a post a couple of weeks back, are not really action poses that lend themselves to a table-top war-game. Click here to see the rest of the Atlantic figures.

BMC British Infantry
To be more precise, these guys are British 8th Army Infantry, but they round up the 50 figures well. Their sculpting seems nicer than that of the other figures from the other sets that did not make the cut.

Britains Herald British Infantry - Part I
Based on the weapons they are carrying these guys seem to be post-WWII figures, but their poses are nice enough that I couldn't resist being a purist and I drafted them into the WWII Army. 

Britains Herald British Infantry - Part II
Britain's Herald figures were produced from the 1950's to the 1980's, some of the later ones made in Hong Kong. You can tell some of the newer ones from the base which is not part of the figure but attached to it.

Marx British Infantry
A classic set. A bit slim for my taste, but nonetheless a nice addition to the unit.

Matchbox British Infantry - Part I
The Bren gunner is one of my favorite ones. For some reason the flamethrower guy tends to be harder to find than the rest.

Matchbox British Infantry - Part II
The officer with the sheepskin coat is turning out nicely.

Weston British Infantry
New production by Steve Weston. Overall a nicely sculpted set. The only thing to criticize is how wide the helmets are. Some of them remind me of the helmets used by the Star Wars men protecting the Emperor.

Finished British Infantry
This is how the whole unit looks after I finished painting them and gave them their protective coats.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

River Mission Part III - British Commandos

In this third installment of our River Mission series we have a team made up by a Matchbox British Commando (rower) and an Airfix British Commando. As you can see, the two figures complement each other well and it is not immediately obvious that they were made by different manufacturers. As typical for these highly trained and skilled, all-volunteer special forces troops, they have embarked on a daring and challenging mission, where stealth and suprise will play a key role. Hopefully they'll be able to keep that Bren gun quiet as they move downstream towards their mission's rendezvous point.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Struggle at the farmhouse - 21st Century GIs in Action

Italy, spring of '44. The allied invasion of of the italian mainland is underway. The going up the boot is getting tougher and tougher as the allied forces come up against the Gustav Line. Here a squad of 21st Century Toys GIs find themselves defending an American outpost setup on an abandoned farmhouse. Isolated from their main body, they must hang on until help arrives.

For this squad of GI's, it's all coming down to fighting for this piece of real estate.

The men are at the ready.

The deploy an all-around defense as the enemy can come from any direction.

The wait is long and the surroundings feel eerily quiet.

All of a sudden, all hell breaks loose.
The enemy is attacking in company-size strength.

First the attack seems to focus on the left front.
Is it just me or are there too many guys pointing out targets, and not enough laying down fire?

A hail of semi-automatic fire greets the attackers on the left.

On the right a few well-placed grenades are keeping the enemy at bay. 

All of a sudden the back is also under attack. Men rush to reinforce that wall.

A fearsome flamethrower is already there doing its best to deter the enemy.

A few rocks is all that stands between these GIs and the enemy that surrounds them. Help is underway but it will take at least a couple hours of climbing through arduous terrain.
Will they be able to hold until then?

Click here to see some more GIs.
Here are some pictures of GIs in action in Normandy.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A special guy - Atlantic British Infantry

Today I want to shine the spotlight on this figure from the Atlantic British Infantry set. While sometimes the sculpting from this manufacturer comes across as a little stiff, and certainly some of the other figures in this set feel that way, I think that this figure turned out quite nicely. However it is not because of the sculpting that I like it, but because of what it represents. This guy won't be very useful in a war game, but he is certainly worth the time you spend looking at him and pondering the virtues that he -literally- stands for. He reminds of the main character in the movie Passchendaele. I know that's a WWI film, but the self-sacrifice, devotion & determination that he displays, transcend that conflict and have been part of many warriors' ethos in the course of history. Let's hope that he makes it back to friendly lines unhurt and that he manages to save his mate.

Click here to see some pictures of British Infantry in action against the Waffen SS.
Click here to see a description of more British Infantry figures.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A company of GIs in action: Breaking out of the Bocage

The fighting in the Norman countryside has been brutal. After 7 long weeks, the allies are attempting to break out of Normandy into the plains beyond Saint-Lô. Here a company of GIs is launching an attack using a small river as their jumping-off point. 

It is a combined-arms operation, involving Infantry and Armor. The Air Force and Artillery have supposedly 'softened up' the enemy already.

Men and tanks rush forward ignoring the unexpectedly thick defensive fire.

1st platoon is charging on the left...

...firing on the go.

2nd platoon is providing covering fire.

Led by Sgt. Guts, 3rd platoon is moving up the road on the right.

Even the supply section is joining in the action.

But the enemy is expecting them.

And in typical German tactical doctrine, they are launching a counter-attack.

They are coming down the river bend trying to split the American attack in two, so they can then roll them up from the flanks.

For a while the situation gets pretty dicey.

Even the officers are drawn the close-quarters fighting.

Not to mention the medic, who has to fight for his and his buddy's life.

But the heavy weapons platoon helps to check the enemy momentum.

The heavy 'stovepipes' decimate the oncoming enemy infantry.

And the MGs pin down the remaining ones.

However neutralizing the enemy armor is a different story. The situation is still hanging in the balance as the guns on the American tanks can't penetrate the German tanks' superior armor. 

It's up to the courage of a few individuals to stabilize the situation. A bazooka team steps up to the challenge.

But the German tanks keeps coming, their guns wreaking havoc among the softer-skinned American tanks and raking the GIs with MG fire.

Finally, the Americans take a page from the German fighting book and start firing their howitzers point-blank at the oncoming tanks. The balance of the battle is gradually shifting in favor of the GIs. Looks like a breakout might actually happen after all.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Painting Toy Soldiers

This is probably one of the most common questions that folks in the hobby have, and there are many good answers out there. I certainly spent my share of time looking for answers and I learned and benefited a lot from the experience of others and the knowledge that they have generously shared. This post is my attempt to 'pay it forward' by documenting and compiling a list of the tips and techniques that have worked the best for me.

1) Remove any excess plastic from the figures. Sometimes there's extra plastic at the seams where the two halves of the mold met, or at the points where the plastic was injected.

A snap-off knife like the one below works fairly well for this purpose.

2) Use an old toothbrush and a cup filled with dish detergent to wash the figures. Rinse well, and let dry completely. I usually let them dry overnight. Washing the figures well is probably the most important step to ensure that the paint will adhere to the figures. This is because during the manufacturing process, the mold is coated with a non-adhesive release agent so that the plastic does not stick to the mold, and some of the release agent gets transferred to the figures.

3) Apply a good coat of primer. I've read that it allows the paint to bond better, but for me the main reason to do it is that it lets me get away with doing only one coat of paint. Otherwise, depending on the color of the plastic and the color of the paint, you would need to apply a couple coats.
You want apply the primer homogeneously to the entire figure. Sometimes that can be tricky. I use a primer in spray form, like the one below, and what I do is a line up about 100 guys at a time on top of a 2x2 plywood board. I line them up in the standing position close enough to each other that I won't be wasting too much primer spraying the board, but far apart enough so that one guy does not block the primer meant for guys around it. Once I have sprayed them from above, front, behind, left and right and the primer has dried, I then place them on the board lying down so I can spray them from 'below' and reach between their legs, underneath their arms, beneath their weapons and packs, etc.

4) Now you are almost ready to paint. But before you apply the paint, you want to make sure you have a few brushes in good condition. I would say that you want about 3: One large brush for painting broad sections fast without attention to detail, like painting the base uniform color, or the ground color. A small brush for painting small things like shoes, backpacks, weapons, etc. This brush can also be used to 'cut' the edges/boundaries between colors. Lastly, a fine brush to paint thin things like straps and the fine detail on the figures. The smaller the brush the more important that it is still in good condition. One or two hairs sticking out can deposit paint where you don't really want it, and cause unnecessary touch up work. Rinse them as needed while you work and clean them well when you are done painting for the day.

Sample brushes. I actually have quite a few more, but you can really get by with 2-4.

5) A word about the paint. I use water-soluble/acrylic paints as they are easier to clean up and don't require to work in a well ventilated area as oil-based paints do, which is good during the winter. Now, here is the important point. You want to make sure that the consistency of the paint is adequate. By that I mean that it has not thickened to the point that it starts to clump on your brush. Otherwise, it makes the tip of your brush fat and ends up putting paint where you don't want it. Sticky/clumpy paint, can also remove paint from the figure from places where you just wanted to touch up. Stirring them at the beginning of your session and whenever you notice that the surface starts to thicken usually takes care of it, but at some point you will need to thin the paint. Some paints can be thinned with plain water, some paints require their own brand of water-based thinner, like the one below. Do what is called for by your specific brand of paint.
BTW, I have found that it is not a good idea to shake the paint containers as that leaves the inner part of the lid covered in paint, and when you close the container again, and that paint dries, sometimes it makes it really hard to open the container again, plus every time you do that, you'd be wasting the paint that covers the lid. Instead, you can use a thin wooden sticks (see picture below) to stir the paint. This takes care of mixing the paint well with minimum waste and no tight lid problems.

6) Now you are ready to paint. Many fellow figure painters recommend the tried-and-true technique of painting from the inside towards the outside. This means that you start with the hands, face and any exposed skin, then you move on to the uniform, and then the things on top of that. I also find this a good approach, but besides the order in which to paint things, I've discovered that giving consideration to the type of brush that you can use and the amount of cutting/edges that you need to paint can save you a good amount of work. So I generally do the following:
-use large brush to paint skin fast, without regard for painting beyond the actual skin surface
-use large brush to paint uniform pants and blouse fast, without regard for anything at the bottom of the pants, but making sure not to get any uniform color on the skin.
-use large brush to paint ground fast without regard for shoes, but avoiding any legs on the ground.
-use medium brush to cut uniform neck, cuffs, and the pant's leg openings.
-use medium brush to paint and cut shoes.
From here on it's a matter of painting weapons, equipment and the finer details, but in general, you try to use as big a brush as you can to paint as much surface quickly enough, and then you use the smaller brush to cut the transition lines. A good rule of thumb is to paint only as much detail as you can see when you hold the figure at arm's length, which is what you will normally be able to appreciate when you look at them in the course of playing or putting together a diorama. It's also the amount of detail that you would see if a real man were standing about 50 ft (15m) away. Then again, if you are planning to shoot pictures close up, like the ones I have been making for these posts, you might want to paint a bit more detail than I usually do.

7) After you are done painting you have a good looking figure, but you might not be able to do much with it besides looking at it or else the paint might chip off. If you want to use them for gaming or you don't want to have to worry about how to store them or transport them, then you want to apply some kind of protective finish. What I have found the best solution so far is to cover them in a coat or two of liquid rubber. I do two coats, just to be on the safe side. Since the rubber is elastic, it allows things like rifles to bend, without the paint cracking and coming off. There is a great product to do this called 'Plasti Dip'. It comes in spray and liquid formats and in multiple colors. Buy the clear color, in liquid form. The spray version does not work as it comes out too thick and creates big clumps on the figure.

To apply the Plasti Dip you will need to thin it with Turpentine, so you will want to do this in a very well ventilated area. Use an empty yogurt cup. Fill it up about a third of the way with Plasti Dip and another third with Turpentine. Stir well. Make sure the consistency is such that any excess will slide off the figure. If needed add more Turpentine. If the coat is too thick, you won't appreciate the figure's details. Hold the figure by the base and dip it into the cup. As you take it out, shake off the excess and let the figure drip back into the cup for a few seconds. Once you let the figure stand on its base, can wipe off any big droplets that might accumulate on the figure's chin, elbows, etc, where gravity pools the liquid rubber. You can use an old paint brush for this purpose. Let the figures dry overnight. The next day you can do the base. To let the base dry set the figures on their sides on a cutting board or something similar that will allow the base to hang over the side. Make sure you have protected your table surface with newspaper as the base might continue to drip. You can use this same technique to deal with figures without a base, doing one half first, letting the wet half hang over the cutting board while it dries and then doing the other half the next day. Once you get the hang of it, you can work on several figures at the same time (i.e. in between dipping guys you can go remove the excess drops from guys that you dipped earlier).

8) The only problem with the Plasti Dip is that well, it feels rubbery, so to give it a smooth finish I follow the Plasti Dip with a coat of liquid lacquer, the kind used to finish wood. I use Minwax water-based polycrylic protective finish.
The same dipping/drying techniques apply as described in the Plasti Dip point. BTW, you can use the satin finish for a shinier appearance or a matte finish for a more realistic look. These two steps do take a good amount of extra time, but IMHO they are well worth the effort as they do protect the investment you have made into painting your figures. I have not had a single paint chip in about five years, since I started using this finishing technique.

9) Lastly, depending on whether I want the figures to have a clean look or a rough/combat look, I might apply a coat of blackwash. To do this I use highly-watered-down black acrylic paint.

Make sure the paint is thin enough that it won't cover entire areas of the figure. The idea is to make it so thin that it will only accumulate in areas of the figure where there are folds or create the appearance of a random patch of dirt. Again, I use the yogurt cup dipping approach, with the cutting boards to aid with the drying. Note that you could probably perform this step before the Plasti Dip, but I usually do it at the end because it helps me remove the satin look of the liquid lacquer that I have.
Here's how the blackwash looks on an unpainted figure. BTW, this will be the rare time in which you will see me posting a non-WWII figure. The reason for this is that when I was experimenting with this technique, I actually tried it on a guy who I did not care that much about :-)

Well, this post turned out to be quite a bit longer than the bullet point list that I initially conceived, but I think it contains most of what you might need. Good luck with your projects!

Click here to see some painted US infantry figures.
Here are some pictures of British Infantry half-way painted.