A cold, wet winter on Arch-to

After too many weeks of cold, wet northern British Columbia west coast weather I was looking at modelling shelf and had the idea that if Luke Skywalker was living on an island in the middle of the ocean on the Jedi planet Arch-to, he had to deal with the same oceanic winter weather as does Skellig Michael in Ireland in the Atlantic Ocean. ( where two Star Wars movies were shot and where September weather actually delayed shooting The Last Jedi). So here is the Hasbro Star Wars Luke dealing with the Arch-to equivalent of December rain, cold and wind.

The Hasbro Skywalker figure actually works quite well in close up.

Shot with Sony Alpha 55 and a Tamron 70-300 macro lens.

The Rusty Romulan

An unfortunate Romulan Bird of Prey crashed on an alien world many years ago and nature is taking over. (Robin Rowland)

My latest project, The Rusty Romulan, was begun to solve a very old problem. When I was a teenager (yes that long ago, when Star Trek the Original Series was still on the air on NBC) I built all the available Star Trek models from AMT, including the Romulan Bird of Prey.

My original build of the Romulan Bird of Prey from the late 1960s.

There was one problem with that model. There was something wrong with the spray paint I bought (memory fades) either at my neighborhood hobby shop or perhaps a hardware store was faulty and the metallic paint was rough and potmarked.

Somehow, unlike all the other models I built in those days, the Romulan Bird of Prey was the only one that survived. Like some other models, it ended up in a box of books that I unpacked when I retired. (Yes it was that long ago).

So the Bird of Prey was hanging around on a shelf until one day I had an idea. Living in northern British Columbia you often come upon crashed cars in the bush, completely rusty and overgrown. Or illegally abandoned vessels rusting on a shoreline and also becoming overgrown.

So why not make lemonade from the Bird of Prey and turn it into a rusty Romulan.

So that’s what I did.

The repainted and now rusty Romulan Bird of Prey.

The Romulan Transportation Safety Board has not yet investigated the crash. The Bird of Prey is listed as missing. So the reasons for the crash (and if the crew survived) is unknown. The space craft managed to reenter the atmosphere intact. There was no significant battle damage and the crew did not trigger the self destruct. However there was clearly some exterior damage, either in space perhaps causing the emergency landing or during reentry.

The Bird of Prey livery was damaged during re-entry. (Robin Rowland)

I scored the old model with my Dremel sander on a very slow rotation. Then painted some areas black for the re-entry burn and then added the initial rust in light washes.

The Rusty Romulan on the workbench. (Robin Rowland)

I wanted the Bird of Prey to be somewhat upright, so it came to rest against a ridge so that the livery can be seen. With that design in mind, the decades on the surface of this planet alien to both Human and Romulan will take its toll on the unlucky Bird of Prey.

Top view of the diorama. (Robin Rowland)
A side view (Robin Rowland)
A view of the wreck as if someone, Human, Romulan, indigenous to the planet or other alien is walking up to it. (Robin Rowland)
The Bird of Prey came to rest against a ridge face. (Robin Rowland)
A closer view of the Bird of Prey on top of the ridge. (Robin Rowland)

I wanted an alien look while maintaining the scale. The Bird of Prey has four decks and is 21.9 metres (71.8 feet) high by 90.6 metres (297.2 feet) wide. So the trees and other vegetation (allowing that this is an alien world) had to be proportional.

A visitor approaches the rusty wreck of the Romulan Bird of Prey (Robin Rowland)

One of the species of vines on this part of the world are made from ornamental moss from a dollar store, the kind usually put in planters.

Our visitor is walking around looking at the Bird of Prey, with the winged livery still visible among the rust. (Robin Rowland)

The “conifers” are the standard, cheapest, model railway trees, with purple foam added.

Our curious visitor continues to walk around the wreck. (Robin Rowland)

The trees are Woodland Scenics Light Green Forest Canopy using just the very tops of the plant material. (Chaos theory is at work here, the tiny tops are just like the bigger trees designed for a model railway.)

The visitor looks up at the rusty hull. (Robin Rowland)

The original AMT model did not have the portholes in the Bird of Prey so I drilled the holes. The fibrous material is a model railway grass and the orange fungi is a chalk.

Now the visitor ventures to walk on the hull of the wreck. (Robin Rowland)

The built up leaves on the hull are just that. Autumn leaves collected, dried and then pulverized in a blender. (It is another model railway technique. However if you are using a blender make sure to use one that comes with both glass and metal containers–and use the metal one).

The visitor looks over to what was once the bridge of the Bird of Prey. (Robin Rowland)
Our curious visitor continues to explore the hull of the Bird of Prey. (Robin Rowland)

The final touch, the second species of vines, are “silk” from corn-on-the-cob.

The GT-1350 Smuggler Interceptor

(Star Wars non-canon; non-Legends)

A Star Guard “smuggler interceptor” using the military version of the Corellian Engineering YT 1300 light freighter which I call the GT-1350 chasing a smuggler in an original YT-1300. (is it the Millennium Falcon or another smuggler using the YT-1300? Who knows.) Have you ever noticed that the Millennium Falcon always out  flies  and out maneuvers a Tie-fighter?


About thirty odd years ago I co-wrote two books, King of the Mob and Undercover, about Prohibition in Canada and how Canada smuggled illicit alcohol into the United States from 1919 to 1933.

One of the things I found out during my research was that in the early days of  Prohibition the United States Coast Guard was ill prepared to intercept many of the faster boats that  opportunists and later gangsters used to smuggle alcohol either from Canada or the French islands of St. Pierre et Miquelon (off the coast of Newfoundland). But if the US  Coast Guard was able to seize one of the smugglers and the specifications were acceptable the seized vessel was turned into a Coast Guard smuggler catcher. The Coast Guard also purchased fast boats that were the same as or similar to those that were used by the smugglers. The Royal Navy used a similar policy in converting fast sloops to pirate catchers during the pirates of the Caribbean era.

So one day I had the idea of turning my Star Wars Command Millennium Falcon into a “smuggler catcher.”

The Star Guard GT-1350 at a landing pad on a planetary base (Robin Rowland)

Since the Star Wars Command Millennium Falcon is marketed as a child’s toy, it runs on wheels and there are three gaps on the underbelly. Also while detailed, the Star Wars Command Falcon is crude compared to the higher quality models on the market.

So it sat on the shelf for a couple of years until I had the idea of making it a “coast guard” interceptor.


Time:  The late “Old”Republic at the time Lando Calrissian and Han Solo were flying the Millennium Falcon.  The time was becoming more lawless after the Sith Wars.   Smugglers were found working all sections of the galaxy.

Remember in all the now forty years of Star Wars, according to both Star Wars canon and Star Wars Legends, the Corellian Y-1300 light freighter was a standard production model, so there must have been lots of them around, even though Star Wars, so far,  has had only one Millennium Falcon (and I am pretty sure the fans would want only one Falcon)

Place: An alliance of several star systems under the banner of the Republic.  Since all these systems are quasi-independent, while they are overall affiliated with the Republic military, like 21st Century nations on Old Earth, they have their own police forces and system patrols commonly known as “Star Guards.” With the rise of the Empire all local forces were Imperialized.

That system is cracking down on smuggling of all kinds, from arms to drugs to luxury goods.  They find that their regular patrol ships are too slow to intercept the Corellian Engineering Corporation’s classic, respected and souped up YT-1300 light freighter.

The local government then decides it needs to “set a thief to catch a thief” and it obtains (and here the reader can choose one of two options)

1)the government buys a YT-1300 light freighter  (or managers to capture a YT-1300, probably on the planetary surface) and modifies it to Star Guard requirements and specifications.


2)the government orders a military version of the YT-1300 the GT-1350 from Corellian Engineering, modified to Guard requirements and specifications, including, of course,  fast and powerful sublight and lightspeed engines.

The Star Guard interceptor at its landing field at night.

The Mission

The Star Guard interceptor has three missions

  1. Smuggler chaser
  2.  Routine policing and system star guard duties including maintenance of  navigation beacons and other vital sensor systems.
  3. Search and Rescue

(just like 21st century coast guards on Old Earth)

The GT-1350 Smuggler Interceptor

A modified version of the popular YT1300fp version popular in the late Republic.

Normal complement is a crew of five to seven.  That would include a pilot and co-pilot,  who doubles as a shuttle pilot. The third regular crew member is a sensor and navigation specialist and when necessary, gunner.  Depending on the mission the GT-1350 can carry Search and Rescue Technicians,  Navigation aids engineers and technicians or Special Weapons and Tactics  Teams who are trained in boarding and capturing intercepted space ships. The GT-1350 can also normally carry up to seven or eight passengers or if required up to fifteen passengers/intelligent beings on a rescue mission (although that would mean the vessel would be crowded until it could rendezvous with relief vessels.)

Special bays

The GT-1350 has replaced the cargo bays with

1)a shuttle bay for a one person/intelligent being shuttle craft

2)drone bays that can carry a number of sensor drones with different missions such as sensor probes and search and rescue probes.  Or it can carry navigation and other in-system beacons,  just like coast guards today act as buoy tenders and maintain other aids to navigation.

3)The third bay  carries a high powered sensor dome that can be extended from the underbelly and used to focus on target areas of the mission

(These bays cover the wheel wells on the Star Wars Command toy Falcon)

Colour scheme and livery

Until the Empire “Imperialized”  the galactic police and military,  Star Guards continued the tradition from Coast Guards on Old Earth where each nation often  had their own colour scheme based on a mixture of mostly white and red ( usually not including some specialist vessels)  US Coast Guard,  largely white with some red except for icebreakers which are mostly red, Canadian Coast Guard with red hulls and white superstructure, Russian Coast Guard all red, China Coast Guard mostly white, UK Coast Guards white hulls and buff superstructure etc.

For painting this GT-1350, I used a slightly modified Canadian Coast Guard colour scheme, making most of the hull red with major parts white and equipment areas in buff or black.

For the livery I wanted something that would seem both futuristic and familiar. As with earlier projects I created the planet in the Solar Cell Photoshop plugin as a symbol for the star system where the ship is based. The stars and other symbols came from various dingbats to create a more alien look.   I decided to use the English “Star Guard” since I found the terms System Guard, System Patrol and other variations awkward and I wanted something that suggest a galactic version of a coast guard. (But it’s also a tribute to Andre Norton’s Star Guard which, of course has nothing to do with the Star Wars universe and is a completely different story).

The underbelly of the Star Wars Command ship showing the colour schemes, livery and shuttle/sensor bays.  The majority of the hull is painted red while the “superstructure” is painted white with some areas, including the landing gear in buff or black.

The toy becomes a sort of model


The Star Wars Command toy Millennium Falcon disassembled with the wheels removed.

The disassembled model was primed. I then inserted the shuttle (forward bay) and the drones (upper bay in this picture) port side on the model. The shuttle and the drones are 1/2500 Star Trek 3D printed shuttles I bought from Shapeways for another project but decided they would be of better use for this project.

The underbelly of the GT-1350 before decals were added. You can see the sensor dome on the bottom left.

A view of the front. Note the star decal.

The port or left side after decals were added. One question I thought about was whether to weather? In the end I decided to weather the ship. As a military vessel under most circumstances, it would be better maintained than the Millennium Falcon’s often jury rigged repairs. On the other hand the George Lucas vision of the Star Wars universe calls for a certain dirty, aged, weathered look.

The aft/rear view of the GT-1350. The toy blue of the engines was washed in a couple of shades of blue. The other ship is the Star Wars MicroMachines Millennium Falcon. (normally used on my earlier project based loosely on The Empire Strikes Back and borrowed for the photo shoot.)

The landing gear are from N Scale model railway telephone poles, which were just the right size to fit into the screw holes on the toy Millennium Falcon.

The photo


The completed GT-1350 Smuggler Interceptor chasing a YT-1300 smuggler. Taken on the black stands you’ve seen above and a black sheet of poster board.

LED light to the right to produce star light.

Taken with a Sony Alpha 6000 at various focal lengths on aperture priority to produce greater depth of field mounted on a heavy duty tripod.

Starfield photoshopped Hubble image from NASA.

The Eagle of the Ninth (updated) Roman Signal Station diorama

(This is the second of my scratch building and modelling projects based on the books I loved as a kid)

A ruined Roman signal station in the fog of the coast of Northumbria or Scotland. (Robin Rowland)

Rosemary Sutcliff was my premier favourite author as a kid–and I still reread her novels from time to time more than 40 years later.

Her first, and by far her most famous novel was The Eagle of the Ninth, first published in 1954. I must have first read it when I took out of the library six years later,  when I was ten,around 1960.  The Eagle of the Ninth is still one of my favourite novels, the story of the young Marcus Flavius Aquila and his freedman Esca searching the wilds of Caledonia (now Scotland) for the eagle of the lost Ninth Legion. It’s also still a favourite for fans around the world to this day (including those who had to take in school in Grade 9 in the 60s and 70s in both British Columbia and Ontario and probably elsewhere).

The Eagle of the Ninth also finally became a Hollywood movie, The Eagle, in 2011, decades after publication.

Back  when I was ten or eleven  (and also interested in model railroading)  I attempted to build the abandoned Roman signal tower takes place, based on the C.  Walter Hodges drawing in the original novel.

As you can see from other entries on this site, for the past year or so, in semi-retirement, I have been scratch building various models, mostly from science fiction. So a few months ago, I decided that while I might continue to model Star Wars and Star Trek,  those wealthy franchises are getting somewhat stale. Almost everyone else is modelling Star Wars and Star Trek.

S0 it was time to branch out to more interesting work, involving novels I loved when I was growing up, most of which did not make it the big screen.  In The Eagle movie, the chase through the moors and the confrontation at the signal tower was dropped for a more “Hollywood” style battle over the eagle of the Ninth Legion (not a satisfying substitution at all in my view). The 1977 BBC television series did use a “tower” set based on the C. Walter Hodges drawing.

Since I had already tried to make the signal tower decades ago as a kid, the obvious choice for an Eagle of the Ninth project was the signal tower.

So why did I update?

The abandoned Roman signal tower as envisioned by artist C. Walter Hodges in the original Eagle fo the Ninth.

My plan at first was a  model based on the original drawing from the 1954 novel and used in many of the updates and republished versions.

It would have been a fairly simple project, a small courtyard, what Rosemary Sutcliff called a “guardroom” and the signal tower itself.

(The one perspective problem with the tower drawing is that the entrance gate is too small for people on horseback)

Before starting I did some basic research, checking Roman “signal tower” both in my personal library of Roman military history (which started when I began reading Rosemary Sutcliff) and online. It was soon quite clear that Roman signal tower in Hodge’s drawing bore no resemblance to the vast majority of Roman signal towers through the history of the empire.

A wide view of the Roman signal tower as seen in one brief shot in the 1977 BBC television series Eagle of the Ninth. Likely an “optical” as it was called in the days before CGI, either a matte painting or a model added to a stock shot of a moor.

The one thing that stood out from the current archaeological evidence is that what are still called “signal towers” were not just signal towers or watch towers–which is why the archaeologists prefer the term “signal stations.”  Aerial surveillance and on the ground research has shown that in Scotland, northern England and later along the coast known as the Saxon Shore (which Sutcliff describes in The Silver Branch and The Lantern Bearers) the stations were relatively close together, some as close to one to two kilometres apart. So while the stations did have signalling capability, it was unlikely they were the hilltop beacon relays used in later centuries such as the Elizabethan and Napoleonic eras.

The stations followed the same basic concept design across the Roman Empire, but the installations varied in size depending on location and the military requirements ranging from a tower in a walled courtyard to mid-sized stations  and what archaeologists today are calling a “fortlet” that is a small fort. (Fortlets could apparently be either large signal stations or smaller versions of the standard legionary or auxiliary fortress with just a couple of  barracks blocks as well as other buildings).  Fortlet signal stations were built along the Saxon Shore when the Roman Empire and Britain was threatened by sea-roving Saxon invaders. Those fortlets were a vital link joining the much larger Saxon Shore fortresses (which are described in The Silver Branch and The Lantern Bearers)

That means the towers themselves were not, as the reader might assume from Eagle of the Ninth,  the base for a small lonely team of perhaps four legionaries  responsible for the signal system.  They varied in size. The stations were likely a base for what today we would call a platoon of perhaps fifteen to fifty men, again depending on the location and military requirements.   The basic Roman squad was eight men,  in the infantry commanded by decanus or in the case of cavalry troop of  decurion.  Some archaeological evidence shows that the towers had stables. Riders could have relayed  messages if the weather prevented standard signalling.  Stations with perhaps with fifty men could have been commanded by a junior centurion,  likely under the eye of an experienced optio or just commanded by an optio,  the equivalent of a staff sergeant or senior warrant officer.  (Just as today second lieutenants command platoons and are watched by experienced senior non-commissioned officers.)  Larger  stations including those that could be called fortlets probably could have been the base for one or two centuries of about eighty to  one hundred men each.

The fog just begins to clear around the long abandoned Roman signal station. (Robin Rowland)

Hostile territory

As I was reading the admittedly limited online academic literature, (there is more but the public has to pay extortionate prices to read it online from commercial scholarly publishers) the suggestions by the archaeologists on the role of the signal stations somehow began to sound familiar — and not just because I’ve been reading Rosemary Sutcliff and both fiction and nonfiction about the Roman army in the decades since.

I quickly realized that there was similar situation in the wilds of Caledonia as well as  Roman garrisoned and for a period Roman occupied province of Valentia and that was what was happening two thousand years later in  Afghanistan  mainly in Kandahar, Helmand, Urozgan  and other  provinces from late 2001 until the staggered coalition withdrawal in the early 2010s.

Most of the archaeological papers were written prior to the 21st century war in Afghanistan, some as long ago as a century ago.  Academics also usually don’t speculate  without corroborating written or other evidence.

What prompted me to build the model in this way was that in my view the Afghanistan model is the best analogy for the Roman signal stations in ancient Britain.

I “covered” the war in Afghanistan from a desk in Toronto as photo editor for CBC News.  That meant I was in almost daily contact with our staff and freelance journalists mainly at “Kaf” (Kandahar Air Field) or in Kabul. I knew when our crews were going “outside the wire”as embeds to the forward operating bases (FOB) and forward observations post (FOP or OP depending on which military was on that post).  Some independent freelancers I worked with spent most of their time embedded “outside the wire.”  Once, by coincidence,  one day at a surplus store,  looking to buy some outdoor clothes for a nature photography trip to New Mexico I ran into a freelancer colleague I knew who, on a limited budget, was gearing up for an embed in Afghanistan.

My conclusion is that Afghanistan is the best analogy for what Roman soldiers faced in Valentia and Caledonia. The nineteenth century colonial period and the American “old West” are not a good analogy due the EuroAmericans’ overwhelming superiority in the technology of the time.  In Afghanistan, the coalition did have a superior military and a technological advantage but, like the Romans facing the northern tribes of ancient Britain, as we have learned over the past decade and more, it wasn’t enough. One archaeologist has suggested the analogy of the United Nations observation posts along the Green Line in Cyprus, but there the role is just observation and with one notable exception–the Turkish invasion–those observation posts were not in hostile territory.

So to continue with the analogy and compare ancient Britain with Afghanistan, the great legionary fortresses at Eburacum (York) and Deva (Chester) could be the equivalent of Kandahar Air Field or Bagram Air Field.

The midsized  signal stations were  probably the equivalent of the company sized forward operating bases (with the company and supporting troops the equivalent of a Roman century).  The legionary and auxiliary forts and fortlets  or large signal stations were likely the equivalent of what were called “camps” and “patrol bases” in Afghanistan.   You can compare this Wikipedia list of ISAF bases  with this list of Roman forts and fortlets in Scotland  as well as the extensive list of temporary marching camps again just in Scotland.

One of the best know is FOB Martello operated by the Canadian Forces in El Bak, 200 kilometres north of Kandahar.  Company sized units and support troops from Canada and the Netherlands were based at Martello.  Martello was named for the early nineteenth century defense and observation towers built by the British in England, Canada and elsewhere as a defence during the Napoleonic Wars. Another well known FOB was Ripley built the US Marines in Tarinkot,  Urozgan Province and later called FOB Davis by the Australians.

The smaller signal stations the equivalent of observation posts that were the base for one or two platoons of infantry and supporting troops.

One of those  US Marine Corps OPs at Kunjack in Helmand Province is described in the book Shooting Ghosts A US Marine, a combat photographer and their journey back from war   by Thomas J. Brennan and Finbarr O’Reilly. Brennan says OP Kujack  looked large from the bottom of a hill but was actually the size of a high school gym for himself and fifteen Marines. That could also describe one of the smaller Roman signal stations, while larger than a high school gym would have been the base for 15 to 2o men. A study of one site in Scotland  speculates there would have been twelve infantry, four officers and eight cavalry or mounted infantry at the station.

A 2007 article in the Canadian Legion Magazine, Ghosts in the Hills, author Adam Day opens with these lines “In the mountains around Forward Operating Base Martello, the enemy are like ghosts; they hide among the villagers and emerge for battle only when and where they choose. Mostly they stay out of sight, firing their mortars and rockets from a distance. Sometimes though, they attack in force.” That could just as easily describe the tribes of Valentia and Caledonia coming out of the mist to attack one of the signal stations.

In both cases, there were smaller observation posts associated with the forward operating bases. At forward operating bases in Afghanistan, there were often observation posts “a couple of hundred metres” outside the main base.  Archaeologists have found signal stations just 350 metres from a Roman fortlet.

The ruined tower/ signal station model in “daylight” on the coast. (Robin Rowland)

Artistic licence and planning the model

In planning the model, I wanted to stay as true as possible to the descriptions by Rosemary Sutcliff while working from a base of what we know today from archaeology and history about the signal stations.


  • the “tower” had to be a long abandoned ruin
  • the model should reflect how Marcus and Esca hid from the wild hunt and took refuge in the “tower.”
  • there had to be a high “tower” where Marcus threatened to throw the eagle into the waters below
  • given those considerations, that signal station should reflect, as much as possible, current historic and archaeological knowledge.

So what did the signal station tower actually look like?  What we know comes from Trajan’s column which depict signal towers along the Danube River during the Emperor Trajan’s campaign against the Dacians.

Signal towers as depicted on Trajan’s column. (Wikimedia Commons)

A wider view of the towers on Trajan’s column. (Wikimedia Commons)

A stone building surrounded by a wooden palisade from Trajan’s column. (Wikimedia Commons)

So the basic tower as depicted is a stone building with a peaked roof and a balcony where some sort of fire/smoke signal system is used.  That’s very different from the scene that C. Walter Hodges imagined in his drawing.

This book cover gives an artist’s concept of how a wooden tower might have looked.

The archaeological evidence indicates that the towers were first made of wood and thatch.  If they became a permanent base, the tower would be made of stone with a tiled roof.  Eventually the wooden palisade would be replaced by a stone wall with a bastion or tower at each corner and surrounded by a defensive ditch.

One example is Castle Hill in Scarborough, England, as described by the archaeologist  R.G. Collingwood  in 1930. (The signal station at Scarborough is from the fourth century CE Saxon Shore era).

You can see some aerial photographs from Scotland’s Gask Ridge Project which shows various Roman forts, fortlets, towers and posts at this link.

So with the research in mind, I created the signal station following those plans. However, I made two additions based on my reading. A stable for the horses and a well (at some sites archeologists have found indications of a well).

Top view of the model showing the signal station tower. the stable, stone walls, fallen wall platform and the outer ditch. (Robin Rowland)

Front view of the diorama. (Robin Rowland)

The left view of the diorama. (Robin Rowland)

The right view of the diorama. (Robin Rowland)

Cover of the 1977 Puffin edition of The Eagle of the Ninth, with cover art by David Smee.

I made two decisions that depart from Sutcliff’s text.  Marcus and Esca’s return journey is generally in a southeasterly direction from the territory of the Dumnonii toward Borcovicus on Hadrian’s Wall (modern Pevensey) in the centre of the island. In the novel the tower is described as on a scarp overlooking a tarn. A tarn is a lake  in a hollow that was carved out by the glaciers during the last ice age.  The signal tower in  David Smee’s cover for the 1977 Puffin edition depicts a much larger body of water, probably the North Sea. So I decided somewhat arbitrarily to place my model on a cliffside overlooking the ocean similar to the signal tower at Scarborough because it offered more interesting modelling opportunities.  I also had a photograph that resembled the background of the Smee painting (as you can see from the images above) that I could Photoshop in as a background.

The second decision was that the wild hunt for the two happens in the autumn, with the furze, bracken and heather are brown and colourless.  A summer scene would work better for the diorama.

The rear view of the diorama. (Robin Rowland)

The other artistic change is that the tower on the right of this image is taller than the other three–just so Marcus and Esca can get up there, pursued by Liathan and his two young friends.

Time and place

The Romans under Governor Julius Agricola invaded Scotland in 80 CE and conquered much of the lowlands, ending with the Battle of Mons Graupius in the Highlands in 84.  Agricola left the following year and the Romans tried to consolidate their conquest by building a series of forts, fortlets and signal stations across the occupied territory. Just as the war in Iraq diverted American and coalition attention from Afghanistan, the Emperor Domitian withdrew troops from Caledonian territory for his war in Dacia. It was during this period that a series of close signal stations were built, many along the Gask Ridge, and called by some archaeologists “glen blockers.”

Over the next decades the Romans were bogged down in Caledonia, withdrawing from the more hostile areas. The Emperor Trajan  also withdrew more troops for his campaigns elsewhere,  leaving the same kind of military vacuum seen today in Afghanistan.   The Caledonian revolt where the Ninth Legion may have disappeared occurred in 117 CE just as Hadrian was coming to the throne and there was unrest across the Empire.  (What actually happened to the Ninth Legion is still disputed by scholars, the Wikipedia link summarizes that debate).  Construction of Hadrian’s Wall began in 122 and was completed six years later.  So while the date isn’t exactly clear, it appears that Marcus arrived in Britannia as a junior auxiliary cohort centurion around 130 CE.

Closer view of the courtyard of the signal station. (Robin Rowland)

On their adventure beyond the wall Marcus and Esca reach  the fortress of  Trimontium,  (today Newstead, near Melrose, Scottish Borders) named for what today are known as the  three Eildon Hills ( the name trium montium three hills or three mountains). Sutcliff says the double cohort fort had been abandoned for thirty years.  That matches current knowledge and evidence.  Trimontium first began as a signal station in the campaign in 80 BCE and was later expanded to a full fortress–built by the Ninth Legion.   That plan then was a line of forts, fortlets and signal stations  that would ensure Roman rule over the region and  allow for quick reinforcement it any element in the chain was attacked. (Again the Afghanistan analogy is apt. ) Trimontiumn was abandoned about  20 years later between  100 and 105 BCE, which fits Sutcliff’s timeline.

So she wrote:

Now the wild had flowed in again, grass covered the cobbles of the streets, timber roofs had fallen in and the red sandstone walls stood gaunt and empty to the sky. The wells were choked with the debris of thirty autumns and an elder-tree had taken root in one corner of the roofless shrine where once had stood the cohort’s standard and the altars of its gods…..


If a signal station was abandoned at the same time, that description  would be the basis for the model.

The Wild Hunt

“Swathes of mist, drawn up from the deep glen, were still drifting across it before the rising wind, but as a starting point, upward of a bowshot away, something that might be a broch loomed through the greyness.”

“They swung in their tracks toward the nearest tongue of birch woods…”

Model railway birch trees.

“a mass of furze seemed to offer a certain amount of cover  and they dived into it liked hunted animals going to ground and began to work their way towards its heart.”

“A dark and evidently much-used tunnel in the furze opened up to them and they slid into it, Esca leading.  The reek of fox grew stronger than ever.”

N scale foxes from Langley Models.

Here you see the station’s vallum ditch, the yellow furze and the purple heather (as well as the foxes). The long abandoned Roman road leading to the station is covered in grass and undergrowth and has collapsed where it has been undermined by the ditch which is now a dirty stream.

“The building they had glimpsed through the mist was quite clear now; not a broch at all but an old Roman signal tower.”

“”The narrow archway, doorless now, gaped blankly in the wall…they stumbled through into a small courtyard…”

” Another empty door faced them…”

“a small courtyard where grass had long since covered the cobbles”

The balcony on four sides of the signal station tower that would have been used for the smoke or fire signals, has mostly long since collapsed.

Here is where I changed the scenario….assuming that much of the signal station tower’s ceilings/floors have collapsed….and to let Marcus and Esca get up the bastion tower  so  the model does pay tribute to the novel.

which means they head through the undergrowth past what’s left of the stables to that tower.

“Marcus was almost blinded by the thrashing to great black wings past his face and a startled raven burst upward uttering its harsh, grating alarm cry, and flew off northward with slow, indignant wing beats, caaking as it went.”

The ravens are Preiser HO scale crows. (since ravens are larger than crows and so fit in N Scale 1/144 to 1/160.)

I decided not to have any human figures in the model, imagining what the signal station would be like on any day in 130 CE when humans weren’t present.

The “well choked with the debris of thirty autumns”  in the courtyard of the signal station. The wood, logs and tiles are  from the station building and the collapse of the wall platform.

What’s left of the stables.


Gulls (and other seabirds) on the old peaked roof. The gulls and seabirds are a mixture of N Scale gulls from Langley Models and Prieser HO gulls and other birds (when the tiny figures were put side by side there wasn’t much difference.)

A Preiser bird on one of the towers.

A Preiser bird on one of the towers.

A couple of Langley seagulls on the wall of the signal station.

Gulls and other seabirds on the ocean side. (In this photo, the supports for the birds have been removed in Photoshop to make them appear to be flying)

A closer view of the gulls and seabirds on the ocean side.



N scale (1/44 to 1/60)

Station walls…..thick corrugated cardboard covered with printed stone sheets.  Station cobbles, printed stone sheets


Prescription bottles covered with printed stone sheets with bastion tower tops the reversed lid of the prescription bottle


Top from a liquid egg container

Various brands of model railway ground coverage and foliage that I have picked up over the years

Roman Road

A printed stone sheet


Sony Alpha 6000  18 to 55 lens

Sony Alpha 77  with 100mm Macro lens

Android phone camera

The fog image

An old shot of the west coast of Ireland on a cloudy day taken back in 1978

First Photoshopped in the front of the signal station.

Second image I added a very low opacity light grey fill layer, followed by a darker grey fill gradient fill layer with the darker fill toward the top.

Third image I added a third mid-opacity light grey fill layer to make it look really foggy,


Modelling Andre Norton’s “baldie” starship

The “baldie” starship trapped in Arctic ice from Andre Norton’s The Time Traders. (Robin Rowland)

The “baldie starship” at an alien base from Andre Norton’s Galactic Derelict. (Robin Rowland)

Almost all the model starships on the market today come from either Star Wars or Star Trek, with a few from the Battlestar Galactica reboot. Some speciality hobby stores both brick and mortar and online do offer some “vintage” kits. Even on Shapeways, the online marketplace for 3-D printed models,  the offerings are almost all Star Trek or Star Wars.

Yes as you can see from this site, I do model Star Wars and I have some Star Trek models on my to-do list.   A few months ago I decided it was time that my favourite science fiction author as a kid, Andre Norton, received some modelling tributes.

I decided that my first Andre Norton project should be from the first Norton science fiction novel I read when I was 13, The Time Traders.   (which became a series of novels )

The Time Traders, first in the series,  was written in the fifties at the height of the cold war.  The basic premise  is that the Soviet Union finds an alien starship preserved in the Arctic ice cap and starts using that technology (at the time of the so-called, later proved to be non-existent “missile gap”) and the United States must counter the Soviets.

Both sides some how, it’s never explained,  develop time travel and in a time travel arms race send agents back in time to various ages when the aliens later dubbed the “Baldies” were active on Earth. The “Baldies are alien pale, white, hairless, alien humanoids.

Norton only described the starship as spherical.  And various cover artists had their own interpretations of the ship trapped in ice. Every cover is different,  unlike movies or television where the design is fixed, so that gave me a little flexibility.


Time Traders paperback cover.

Time Traders hardcover cover.

So I decided to start  with an N scale propane tank model from my  model railway days ( I may try other approaches to baldie ships in the future)

I then added a bridge similar to the first cover, using a manufacturers container for contact lens (which didn’t work out as well as I had hoped) and stand/main engine from a bottle top.

 Once the model was complete,  I took it out into the snow of my front yard.

Perhaps this is how a 1950s helicopter might have spotted the Baldie ship in the thinning Arctic Ice.

And this is what the helicopter crew might have seen as they go down for a closer look. (Robin Rowland)

Of course I couldn’t leave the model out in the snow. So I created a base using another cover, from the novel Galactic Derelict.

Landing on an alien base.

Another view of the starship

There are a couple of differences here.  In Galactic Derelict the spherical ship is a scout, capable of holding perhaps up to five humans/humanoids.

It is discovered in the American west during the Palaeolithic when there is still volcanism in the Rockies (at least in the novel) and during an attempt to bring it forward to twentieth century time, instead it sends the crew on a journey across the galaxy and back.  In the several thousand years the “Baldie” civilization has collapsed and one of the bases the Terrans visit is a refueling station that, luckily still operates.

So in this case the model remains the full size starship. not the scout. The landing zone is a container for frozen meat pies.  The “tower”  really should be further away. Once again I used two toothbrush containers glued together,  then add details from scrap.

To match the cover, I photographed the base in available light late on the afternoon of April 1.   Also there are images of the model in full light to show more details.

The Baldie ship at the refueling base (Robin Rowland)

The “tower” at the alien base. (Robin Rowland)

A closer shot of the “Baldie” ship after landing at the base (Robin Rowland)

The base in full light. (Robin Rowland)

The tower in full light (Robin Rowland)

Turning router packing into a ruined alien temple

Original router packaging and the resulting model photoshopped into a jungle setting. (Robin Rowland)

Just before Christmas, I purchased a new router. Opened the box and the router was packaged in papier-mâché, a more environmentally friendly to all that plastic.  I took one look at it and it reminded me  of all those photos of  jungle ruins.

Finely carved corridors from the ruins of the Buddhist temple of Angkor Ta Prohm in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It dates to the 12th and 13th century and was built by king Jayavarman VII who is considered to be one of the greatest rulers of the ancient Khmer Empire. Allie Caulfield/ Wikimedia Commons


Ruins on a hill behind the better excavated ruins at Palenque. Alastair Rae / Wikimedia Commons

So I imagined that once on an alien world (of course it could just as well be Earth) that once there was an impressive building, the Emerald Temple, that was for some reason lost to history abandoned and thus the jungle took over. But this temple was so well built that most of it has survived the ages.

So I put my several ongoing kitbashing ship model projects aside to create the temple.  It took about five hours work over three days.

Close up view of the packaging. It certainly looks as if it’s a web of vines . (Robin Rowland)

I am calling this the Emerald Temple.  There was once cladding or covering or paint that when the temple was new and active would have been a bright emerald green.  That has now decayed so I began with a very light spray of emerald green spray paint plus a little camouflage olive green spray paint.

The Emerald Temple begins to take shape. (Robin Rowland)

A closer view of the emerald paint on one of the towers (Robin Rowland)

Top view of the unpainted packing (Robin Rowland)

I began with the top of the temple, adding a mix of commercial autumn leaves ground cover with dried tea from old tea bags to create the old leaves and other forest detritus that has built up over the years.

Ground cover and tea leaves create the detritus that has built over the years and decades. (Robin Rowland)

Front view with the old leaves and other forest detritus. (Robin Rowland)

I then added several layers of different coloured ground cover and foam bushes.

Ground cover added to all sections of the Emerald Temple (Robin Rowland)

A closer view of one of the towers. (Robin Rowland)

Additional plant life were twigs from my garden and a tomato stem, dipped in dilute white glue and then with some ground cover added.

An even closer view of the tower. (Robin Rowland)

And here is the final product

The Emerald Temple model. (Robin Rowland)

A slightly different angle. All the final product photos were shot in direct sunlight through a window. (Robin Rowland)

Close shot of the tower with modelling complete. (Robin Rowland)

Finally I photoshopped the completed model into an old screen grab of the jungle in Thailand from a documentary I shot back in 1997,  worked so that the temple appears to be part of the older, lower resolution video. It’s up to the viewer to decide whether or not the temple is part of a lost civilization on Earth or on an alien world.

Star Wars in camo II. A forward observation post on the front line

I began recreating science fiction models about two years ago for a couple of reasons. One I wanted a creative outlet that was somewhat separate from my career as a photographer, journalist and writer. That’s so I could relax and have fun. Second, as a kid in the 1960s inspired by Star Trek, the Original Series, I had built the kits and scratch built my own models and now that I’m retired I wanted to start again.

I began following various modellers and toy photographers on Instagram and came across the amazing work by Matthew Callaghan, a U.S. Marine photographer who also has a hobby of recreating scenes he is familiar with using the larger size Star Wars figures in photographs that simulated the reality of combat in Iraq.

Callaghan’s work immediately struck a chord, and not just because I am working on my own Star Wars model projects. From September 2003 until I retired in March 2010, I was the photo editor for CBC News, based in Toronto. That meant as soon as I got into work and for the rest of each day, I would see the photo feeds coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan from the Canadian Press, the Associated Press, Reuters, Getty/AFP and Canadian Forces Combat Camera.

I worked closely with CBC reporters, producers and technicians based in Kandahar, many of whom would be filing their photos back to me in Toronto. Finbarr O’Reilly who was embedded with both the Canadian and US Forces, including the Marines, was once one of my students at Ryerson University School of Journalism. He is co-author of Chasing Ghosts  along with former Marine Thomas Brennan.

At CBC, as editor, I worked on an Afghanistan project with photographer Louie Palu who was also embedded with both the Canadians and Americans in Afghanistan and is known for his portraits of Marines and is author of the new book Front Toward The Enemy.

I had just started working on my Star Wars camouflage project and was looking for an idea for doing some kind of similar combat simulation , inspired by Callaghan’s gritty and realistic photos of the Storm Troopers

I work with Star Wars Command figures which are much smaller than the larger figures most photographers work with. I noticed one of the rebel fighters from Hoth with a pair of galactic binoculars and that gave me the idea of recreating, in Star Wars terms, one story of my father in the Second World War, when he was a British artillery officer in Malaya, fighting the Japanese.

The battle was at Kampar . My father’s 88th Field Regiment of the Royal Artillery was defending the outer British perimeter.

As Wikipedia says:

Major General Archie Paris (temporary commander of the 11th Indian Division) had to defend a line from the coast through Telok Anson (now Telok Intan) up to the defensive positions at Kampar. The defensive perimeter at Kampar was an all round position, straddling Kampar Hill (Gunong Brijang Malaka) to the east of Kampar town, overlooking the Japanese advance and well concealed by thick jungle. Paris placed artillery spotters on the forward slopes protected by the 15th/6th Brigade on the western side of the position, and the 28th Gurkha Brigade covered the right flank on the eastern side.[2] The two brigades were supported by the 88th Field Artillery Regiment, which was equipped with 25 pounders, and the 4.5 inch howitzers of the 155th Field Artillery Regiment. Once the 12th Brigade had passed through Kampar Paris sent them to cover the coast and his line of retreat at Telok Anson.

My father, Lt. Frederic Rowland, was one of those artillery spotters. For his actions that day he was awarded the Military Cross.

What the citation doesn’t say was that my father was in a spotter dugout along with two “other ranks” connected to the artillery headquarters with a field telephone. At one point a mortar round landed right in the dugout. The two men with my father were killed instantly but in the random nature of the universe, my father had barely a scratch, although he would tell me that most of his uniform was blown off. He had to crawl out of the dug out to re-splice the severed telephone wire and then crawled back into the dug out to call in the artillery on the advancing Japanese tanks.

Later as a prisoner of war in Changi Jail, Singapore, he commissioned the war artist Leo Rawlings, who later became famous of his drawings and paintings of POWs  to recreate the action at Kampar. Here is a detail of that painting. The two spotter positions, black box, are suggested with just a couple of strokes of a water colour brush.


Star Wars in camo I. If you were a Storm Trooper wouldn’t you want some camouflage?

The first step was to paint the Hoth rebel figures not in winter white but in the Second World War British uniform colour (somewhat) from Vallejo paints, with a couple of appropriate adjustments.

Here’s a close up of the spotter officer, the forward observation post commander, as he might appear in a WWII photo, using the Kodak Tri-X filter from Perfect Effects.


A contemporary digital image of the  spotter officer and his two men with an R2 unit in the background.

Of course, I added  an R2 unit, which I call R2C1 (C for camouflage model) plus one other soldier, a reinforcement.

So I started, as with some other projects, with a clear blister pack provided an idea for a futuristic popup but portable armoured forward observation post, complete with all kinds of high tech communications gear.

Then I added a coat of grey auto primer on both sides.

Then some dark brown camouflage super flat spray paint.

Then I found the right position for the figures.

I created the com panel using the web and reduced the images using Photoshop, then reduced the entire image even further to fit on to a square on the inside of the original blister pack.

You can see that AT-STs are approaching just like Japanese tanks were attacking my father’s FOP.  Given the tech of the galaxy far, far away they are in communication with rebel headquarters and have multiple sensors, rather than binoculars and a field telephone connected by a wire. And yes the multi coloured buttons on the panel are from the Star Trek Original Series bridge <grin>.


The R2 access panel was created the same way.



Combat is never found in a clean environment. So I wanted to dirty up the scene. The fallen trees are from hothouse tomatoes, painted black as if they’d been scorched. I laid down a layer of standard ground cover, including some grass. Then it was all covered up with a mixture of about one third ashes from my barbecue, one third talcum powder, and one third a mixture of fine model railway ballast and fine rubble.





As well as the standard photographs, I wanted to duplicate a Second World War look with black and white and some old style photographs plus two water colours, one where I tried to duplicate the limited colours available to Leo Rawlings as well as the kind of quick watercolour painter that was common in that era.

To duplicate the Rawlings watercolour from the image, I first used the charcoal and chalk filter in Photoshop, then added a sepia photo filter. Next I duplicated that layer and used the Jixipix watercolour filter. It was a bit bright, so I used the lighten tool under the Photoshop saturation adjustment, then adjusted opacity to bring out more of the chalk and charcoal layer.

This follows the style of the “quick sketch’ watercolour used by some war artists from the Napoleonic era to the Second World War and probably even today. Created using the Jixipix water colour filter.

The front of the forward observation post as it might have been captured on old Kodak film, using a VSOC Lightroom plugin.

Another view that duplicates a faded colour photo from the era, no filters, desaturation in Photoshop.

And a couple of gritty black and white images.

Star Wars in camo I. If you were a Storm Trooper wouldn’t you want some camouflage?

First this is completely non-canon (so far) and non legends. I fell in love with Star Wars the moment in 1976 I saw the original trailer “the story of a boy, a girl and a universe… a billion years in the making and it’s coming to your galaxy this summer,” months before the movie was released. Of all the scenes in all the Star Wars movies in all the galaxies, my favourite scene is still Luke Skywalker walking out to watch that double sunset on Tattoine. So this is just a bit of fun with a series I love.

The double sunset (Lucasfilm/Disney)

When I began to transfer my love of Star Wars into model making (as you will see on the right hand menu) I began to wonder for the first time (about the same time that Star Wars Rogue One came out last December) why after so many years, the Storm Troopers are still in white body armor?

Star Wars Command figures one painted in a light green camouflage, and on the right a standard issue white armour Storm Trooper. Who has a better chance to survive a battle? (Robin Rowland)


Now I’ve worked in movies and television for 40 years (most of that time in TV news). Always the most important thing is “the look” which is part of the production ethic and creates an atmosphere for both the actors and  the audience. John Mollo, who passed away just a couple of weeks, created the original costumes and most of the look of what came to be called “A New Hope.”  based on concepts by John McQuarrie .

Mollo won an Oscar for his work on A New Hope, and the white armored Storm Troopers became iconic, along with Darth Vader, CP30 and R2D2. So I am sure Lucasfilm and now Disney stick with what works. Later movies have enhanced “the look” but haven’t changed it. But maybe it’s time to question if that white look is still working?

In this promo for Rogue One, the Storm Troopers are charging across open water in their white body armour while the opposing rebels aren’t wearing camouflage, their dark clothing is closer to the terrain. Would you want to be one of those Storm Troopers? (Lucasfilm/Disney)

Now if we take it from the point of view of the Empire and later the First Order, we have to ask whether the upper echelons of the Empire or First Order actually have any respect for the Storm Trooper grunts?  (Even if they are the movie “bad guys.”)  Both Galactic Powers have spent billions of credits over the decades on  new  but vulnerable Death Stars ( a clear waste of taxpayers’ money),  then bigger and bigger and even bigger Star Destroyers.  There are new and advanced Tie Fighters and other space craft. But the poor Storm Troopers, what about them?  They haven’t had an equipment upgrade in 40 years.  (The equivalent  would be using Vietnam era or perhaps even Second World War  technology  in today’s  fighting)  So, imagine, James Earl Jones in his Darth Vader voice echoing Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous “You go to war with the Army you have – not the Army you might wish you have.” After all whether they’re clones or draftees, the Storm Troopers are no more than Imperial/First Order blaster fodder.

If you were a Storm Trooper in the Endor System wouldn’t want some camo? (Starwars.com/Lucasfilm/Disney)

Why even have body armor when a rebel fighter in grubby clothes can take a Storm Trooper out with a blaster or if he/she is a Jedi in some robes can take you down with a lightsabre? What good is body armor if  the blind master  Chirrut Îmwe, can take out an entire Storm Trooper platoon?

What good is body armor against a blind man and the Force? Rogue One (Lucasfilm/Disney)

Just having the  Imperial/First Order soldiers in cloth uniform could be just as effective (and much more easy on the mobile credit dispensers of the war-burdened galactic taxpayers).

Any scene in any Star Wars movie, the white clad Storm Troopers stand out in any environment. Even if rebels or other enemies have super tech sensors in that galaxy far, far away, most of the battles are line of sight, which means the Storm Troopers are easy targets even for the most inexperienced rebel fighter.

While Storm Troopers may have superior fire power and some air cover, they usually lose in the end. Rogue One. (Lucasfilm/Disney)

So I let imagination run and here is the result, if you are drafted or recruited as a Storm Trooper, wouldn’t you want some camo?

Star Wars in camo II. A forward observation post on the front line

Would you like to suddenly meet an AT-AT driver on a jungle trail? Star Wars Command figure (Robin Rowland)


An AT-AT makes its way through an alien jungle. Star Wars Command figure (Robin Rowland)

The rebels or perhaps an other enemy successfully downed the AT-AT so the driver has to make his way on foot. Star Wars Command figure (Robin Rowland)

Adapting to different planets may mean adapting the camo on the body armour to suit the situation. Star Wars Command figure (Robin Rowland)

Another view of the darker camo body armour. Star Wars Command figure (Robin Rowland)

A Storm Trooper in the brush of the Forest Moon of Endor. Sure stands out. Wouldn’t you rather be green trooper? (Lucasfilm/Disney)

I call this R2 unit R2C1. It’s “C” for the camouflaged model. Star Wars Command figure. (Robin Rowland)

Another shot of R2C1. Star Wars Command figure. (Robin Rowland)

Opposing the Storm Troopers are rebels in their own camouflaged bush uniforms. Star Wars Command figure. (Robin Rowland)

Another rebel fighter in the bush. Star Wars Command figure. (Robin Rowland)

The rebel fighters are part of a related project,  a forward observation post diorama which you will find in Star Wars in camo II.

The rebel in the same dark forest as the AT-AT driver. If they meet their camouflage will help both survive. Star Wars Command figure. (Robin Rowland)

The Storm Trooper with the light green camo armour aims his blaster. Star Wars Command figure. (Robin Rowland)

The Storm Trooper aims. Star Wars Command figure. (Robin Rowland)

Catching the Storm Trooper from on high (perhaps from a drone) Star Wars Command figure. (Robin Rowland)

A Storm Trooper in white is definitely an easier target for a rebel. Star Wars Command figure. (Robin Rowland)

Another side by side look at a Storm Trooper in camo and a second in traditional white. Star Wars Command figure. (Robin Rowland)

In the Navy

Another idea I had and am working on in a future project that if there is a Storm Trooper ground army, there might also be a Storm Trooper Navy.

A naval Storm Trooper. Star Wars Command figure. (Robin Rowland)

Disney is branching out from the original Star Wars story line with the announcement that director Rian Johnson will create a new trilogy somewhere in that big galaxy far, far away, that is a separate story line from the Skywalker family epic. As Ben Child wrote in the Guardian “it also suggests that Johnson is the man to take Star Wars into the kind of dangerous new territory that might be required if these movies are to last another 40 years… Star Wars directors cannot make movies about Death Stars, fallen Jedi and Skywalker scions for ever; they must eventually begin to truly expand the universe. New worlds, races, supernatural phenomena and coteries of evil are needed if we are to be remotely interested in a galaxy far, far away in the year 2050. ”

For the various shots I used a Sony Alpha 700 with a Tamron 70-300 in macro mode and a Sony Alpha  77 with a  100mm lens in macro mode and a Sony Alpha 6000 with a Sony 18-55 E Mount.

A pirate starship chase, scratch built from toothbrush packages

An alien pirate ship in pursuit of an another starship . (Robin Rowland)

So here are the results of my latest project, scratch building a couple of alien starships and then applying my photographic and Photoshop skills to put them in some star systems not too far away.

Scratch building the Golden Starliner

You start by going to the dentist for a teeth cleaning and scaling. 🙂   And then take the clear plastic packaging for the tooth brushes that the dentist gives you at the end of  the ordeal.

Add modellers’ masking tape to mark windows for the bridge and viewing ports. The exterior tape is the exact size of the windows I want, the interior is much wider.

Spray paint inside and out. I use a heavy duty plastic compatible automobile primer.

Detail the starship with appropriate scrap that will add to the appearance of the starship.  Remove the inner masking tape and replace it with images (in my case I reduced stock photos to a few millimetres in Photoshop).

Then decide what the basic “look” of the starship should be. After the two halves were glued together, it came to be that although this is designed to be a starship,  it had a sort of steampunk look. (The projection in the stern is not a smoke stack.  The bit of scrap plastic was there to fill a gap in the original toothbrush package). So I used a gold spray paint and decided it was a luxury liner for that alien species The Golden Starliner. Remove the outer masking tape to reveal the windows.

Later I added detailing paints, varying the gold in areas with brass and copper paints and adding colours including reds, greens and blues where appropriate.

The pirate ship

Once the Golden Starliner was complete, I decided the neat thing to do would be to have it pursued by a pirate ship. For that I already had one look in mind, that the ship would be black.  Although sensors in that star system not too far away might detect the ship, it would be black to make visual spotting and identification difficult.  The vessels are not the same scale.

The main body is a shampoo bottle.  The upper deck is another bit of clear plastic packaging, enhanced with one of my favourite candies, Cadbury Cream Egg packaging.

The upper deck was glued to the shampoo bottle and secured with push pins for drying. I originally had planned to remove the pins after the glue was set but decided to keep them.   I used the same grey auto primer. The nacelles, as you can see, are from used highlighters.

The bow is  the top of a bottle of mouthwash, another cream egg package plus a bit of scrap from a juice container as the sensor unit. (Thinking that the forward sensor unit could mean the pirate ship could be part of the Star Trek universe)

The pirate ship was spray painted flat black, with the engine end of the nacelles (the highlighters) masked by tape.  Some parts were painted in a metallic blue, which was also used to dry brush “space rust” with some other parts also painted in different metallic colours to enhance the model.  Here it is seen as I am setting up to take the photographs.

Here I am setting up the chase scene for the camera, showing the completed scratch built models.

The photographs

The photographs have three elements.  The models are photographed in low light with a black background on  black cardboard.  The planets are created in the Photoshop filter plugin LunarCell by Flaming Pear Software. The sun was created in Flaming Pear’s Solarcell filter.

Backgrounds were public domain downloads from NASA’s Hubble website.

Lighting with a LED TV news lamp was adjusted to fit with the illumination of  the planet or the star.

The Golden Starliner

The pirate ship

The pirate ship orbits its base, a marginal planet where normally no one would live.

The pirate ship is an ambush predator, orbiting as close as possible to a red dwarf star so it won’t be seen.

The Golden Starliner follows its usual course from planet to planet, oblivious to what awaits it at the next star.

And the ambush predator begins the chase.


Camera Sony Alpha 77, Minolta 28-75 lens, Iso Auto, F32 apperture priority.

The hunt for the Millennium Falcon – the diorama

Once again the Millennium Falcon is on the run. Once again in this non-canon, non-legend Star Wars Micromachines diorama, the Falcon is trying to hide out in a crater on an unnamed, uncharted minor planet at the edge of that galaxy far far away, perhaps in the mysterious “Unknown Regions.”

The Millennium Falcon hides at the edge of the galaxy. (Robin Rowland)

The Millennium Falcon hides in a small crater on a minor planet in the middle of galactic nowhere. (Robin Rowland)

Unfortunately for the Millennium Falcon crew and passengers, a bounty hunter comes up over the planetary horizon.

A Slave 1 class scout vessel comes over the horizon of the minor planet right over the Millennium Falcon. (Robin Rowland)


The Slave 1 class scout hides in another crater, while waiting for the Super Star Destroyer to arrive so the bounty hunter can collect a reward.. (Robin Rowland)

The Super Star Destroyer appears in orbit over that minor planet where the Millennium Falcon is in that crater. (Robin Rowland)

So what happens next? I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Creating the dioramas and photographs

All the models are Hasbro Star Wars Micromachines that were part of a Hasbro Star Wars Micromachines Epic Battles 48 piece set that fortunately was on sale at half price in my local supermarket.

Rebelscale.com lists the MicroMachines Millennium Falcon at 1/682 scale, the Slave 1 at 1/551 scale  and what Rebelscale calls the Imperial Star Destroyer (if it is the same as the Super Star Destroyer) at 1/23529 scale.

The problem with the Millenium Falcon MicoMachine is that the detailing is way out of scale, especially compared to some of the other models. Also the shiny “vinyl plastic” (according to Rebelscale) didn’t really work for the much loved but by now old and beat up Millennium Falcon.  The model was first painted with Krylon white primer,  then  lightly sprayed with Krylon Ivory Satin.  I added detailing using sharpie style art ink pens. I then sprayed with Krylon Matt finish.  Some of colours of those inks run when sprayed with the matt finish (especially reds).  After the matt finish had dried, details were touched up with the pens.

I left both the Slave 1 and the Super Star Destroyer as is.

The base is the Lunarscape vacu-form crater mold from  Amera Plastic Mouldings  from Low Prudhoe, Northumberland, in the UK.

The sheet of plastic was first covered with Krylon white primer.  Then I brush painted a thin grey wash with ordinary (not modeling) arcylic artists’ paint.   I then sprayed the surface with Krylon Fusion for Plastic white paint and Krylon Make it Stone textured grey paint, two handed, at the same time.   Finally I finished off with a quick pass of the Krylon Ivory Satin to give the surface some variety.  Serendipitously by that time the Ivory Satin can was almost empty and the spluttering spray left lumps of paint which became the surface rocks.

The spray painted Amera Lunarscape with the Micromachines Millennium Falcon (Robin Rowland)

My work table is grey and some what dirty as you can see.  I pinned a black cloth on the wall in preparation for photography. The light for this image was daylight through a window to the left.

Setting up the shot of the Millennium Falcon and the Super Star Destroyer (Robin Rowland)

To take the photograph of the Millenium Falcon and the Super Star Destroyer the Star Destroyer model was on a platform (actually a pile of books) also covered in black cloth.  The main lighting for the shoot was an LED video light high on an extended light stand at the door to my workroom. For this shot the overhead light was also on.

All closeup images were taken with a Sony Alpha 77 and a Sony 100mm prime macro lens.

I wanted imaginative backgrounds, like the covers of 50s-70s science fiction paperbacks, so I choose public domain shots from NASA.

The barred spiral galaxy NGC 6217 (NASA Hubble)

The barred spiral galaxy NGC 6217 was photographed on June 13 and July 8, 2009, as part of the initial testing and calibration of Hubble’s ACS. The galaxy lies 60 million light-years away in the north circumpolar constellation Ursa Major.

The NGC 4536 galaxy, captured here in beautiful detail by the Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3). Located roughly 50 million light-years away in the constellation of Virgo (The Virgin), it is a hub of extreme star formation. Released April 14, 2017  ESA/Hubble & NASA

HH 901 and HH 902 in the Carina Nebula Star-forming Pillars and Herbig-Haro Objects with Jets  Taken in 2010 by the Hubble the region is two light years across and 7,500 light-years away from Earth. ESA/NASA


For both the Slave 1 and the Super Star Destroyer,  the NASA image was added in a new layer, then the eraser tool was used to reveal the spacecraft which were lighted the same way as the Millennium Falcon on the surface.

The “line” between the Lunarscape craters and the work table was blended using a combination the blur tool, the clone tool and the healing brush tool.