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.

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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.

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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.

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.

“Do or do not. There is no try” – the diorama

Yoda and Luke Skywalker on Dagobah after Yoda lifts the X-Wing from the swamp, (Robin Rowland)

For my second diorama (the first was the Emperor Palpatine and his guards) I tackled two scenes, from different perspectives from The Empire Strikes Back.

Photographed from one side, young Luke has arrived at the swamp world of Dagobah and has met Yoda.

Welcome to Dogabah, young Luke. (Robin Rowland)

Shot from the reverse angle and using forced perspective, the frustrated Luke Skywalker has just watched Yoda use The Force to raise his sunken X-wing fighter from the waters of the Dagobah swamp.

Both Luke and Yoda are Star Wars Command figures, painted in the appropriate colours. The Luke figure, unfortunately, is one of the poorest in the Star Wars Command line, compared to other personalities and even ordinary stormtroopers.

The snake (the creature that ate and threw up R2 D2) is from a $2 packet I bought at a dollar store. The flying creature was a lucky addition to the background shot I chose.

Here is the concept art of the scene from the official Star Wars site

How I did created the diorama

I started with the X-Wing which I painted in the standard colour scheme. The tiny R2 unit on the model was removed since on Dagobah, R2-D2 was with Luke. Military modellers often dip figures in Miniwax wood stain to bring out details. Usually I use a light stain, Minimax Fruitwood. This time I used the darker Walnut stain and rather than cleaning most of the stain, I let it drip into the a small aluminum pan.

Yoda also was dipped but he was wiped clean.

For the X-Wing I then added deadfall Witch’s Hair lichen (Alectoria sarmentosa) which is common in northern British Columbia where I live.

I then built the diorama using standard materials, with one exception. The styrofoam base was small so instead of commercial model water, I used several layers of standard food cling wrap (which actually comes with a slight blue tint in a private brand version) to make the snake/monster emerge from the water. I painted the layers of cling wrap with a light brown wash.

Here’s how the diorama  looks.

To photograph from different angles I then chose photos that would work as backgrounds.

Did I visit Dagobah? I wish.

The background images were photographed during a canoe trip in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refugee in south Georgia, ten years ago in April 2006.  The photographs were printed on Epson matt paper so there would be no extraneous reflections

Background image for Welcome to Dagobah
Background image for Do or do not, There is no try.

Finally here is the X wing on the diorama  showing the aft end of the star fighter.

Close up images shot with a Sony A77 and Sony 100 mm macro lens.  Others shot with a Sony 6000.