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.

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)

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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?

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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.

Snowtrooper patrol

Snowtroopers on patrol on a snowy day, cursing the officers who sent them out. Another one of my Star Wars Command figure projects. Photographed in a snowstorm, in Kitimat, BC, January 6, 2017. (Robin Rowland)

Snowtroopers on a patrol in heavy snow. (Robin Rowland)
A snowtrooper in snow above his knees. (Robin Rowland)
The snowtroopers taking the point on this icy patrol (Robin Rowland)
Snowtrooper (Robin Rowland)
This snowtrooper wonders why he “volunteered” for this mission. (Robin Rowland)
Why does the Empire issue such crummy equipment? this snowtrooper wonders. (Robin Rowland)
A rebel snowspeeder has spotted the snowtrooper patrol. (Robin Rowland)
The view of the snowtrooper patrol from the snowspeeder (Robin Rowland)
“I have a bad feeling about this, bud,” the snowtrooper says. (Robin Rowland)