2019 IPMS Nationals: Chattanooga Choo Choo!

961 people entered.

They came from as far away as Japan.

They came from cultures as different from Chattanooga as Argentina, Canada, or Palo Alto, California.

They were young, old, men, women, and any variation in between.

They brought over 3000 models to be judged.

Two even got engaged during the show.

The quality was stunning, and the experience was phenomenal. I have never been as humbled walking through a show and looking at the models on display. I was certain that I was, at best, only average. To leave with three awards and two models to be featured in Fine Scale Modeler magazine was something that left me swollen with pride.

And then, my wife said “Is that good?”. :/

As if I needed further proof that we are not normal. We don’t need proof that as different as we all are and from many varied backgrounds, we share something that most people don’t understand.

We’re mutants.

We get “it”, and for a brief moment in Chattanooga, Tennessee, we celebrated that together.

Speaking of celebrating, I took over 350 pictures and didn’t come close to getting a shot of every model on the tables. Of those all were fantastic, but a few, for any number of reasons, stood out to me and were interesting. Check these out.

As with anything that relies on subjective criteria, there were choices made that could be debated. That said, there weren’t any choices made that I could say were wrong insofar as what I could see of the awards given. The quality was so good, the top 3 in almost any category could be interchangeable. In fact, the top ten in most categories were probably close enough to be argued to be the best. The overall quality was astounding and I don’t envy the job of the judges.

As well as this show was ran, however, I think there is still room for improvement:

One thing that bothers me, and it isn’t unique to this show, is when models are moved in favor of others, especially late entrants. I purposefully got to the venue early enough on Wednesday to make sure I could put my models on the table. When I returned on Saturday, my models had been moved and shuffled around. Three of them suffered minor damage in the move (pitot tubes were knocked wonky, and one set of aerials was stretched and sagging). To be fair, one had a judges note that they pitot was misaligned but it didn’t affect the judging, and it wasn’t difficult to fix when I got home. But still, damage from third parties due to a move is avoidable. Could the pitot or sagging aerial have affected the judging? Of course. In fact, one could argue that in a contest with quality this high, those things should have mattered. I think the solution is that tables can be marked off in grids, and pre-registrants buy a space. Late entrants can still get a spot in any unsold spaces, or at an overflow table that can be scaled infinitely.

Another thing is how some modelers demand more space than their model requires, further exasperating the point above. They do this by using bases, and pedestals, often that the model is not affixed to. Some are the size of server’s trays. Others raise the model off of the surface in an unnecessary way that tends to just obscure models around it. Some bring paperwork and literature that stands up off of the table like a science project tri-fold board. Models should not be moved to make space for that, nor should (at least in my view) people be allowed to put their model on pedestals or to have literature surrounding their model, that obscures other models or takes up a disproportionate amount of space. This issue would get fixed by my grid suggestion above, with a statement that any additional materials have to be attached to the model entry form, can be no larger than letter size, and must lay flat on the table, under the model.

Another issue I had was the length of the Saturday portion of the show and the awards. At 4pm I could not get back into the venue to get my models as the judges were putting the awards out. At 7:15pm the award ceremony started. At roughly 8:30 they finally got into the actual awards. At roughly 10:30pm I was back in the model room. At 11:45pm, after three long trips to the parking garage, I was finally loaded up and ready for the two hour drive home. That’s a very long day. To make it worse, as I was trying to burn several hours in Chattanooga, the vendors had mostly evaporated well before the doors were locked in the model room. My suggestion, as the judging occurred Friday night, would be to put out the awards in each category, after judging but before the venue opens on Saturday. That way the Saturday visitors can see, and appreciate, the best three in each category. An awards ceremony should absolutely be held to announce special awards winners, best of category winners, best in show, and all of the ancillary congratulation and business meetings that are required for a show of this scope, but I don’t think a 6-8 hour block in the schedule is requried.

Finally, and probably the most controversial, is a discussion about the merits of the so-called “Spanish School” of building. I define the “Spanish School” by comparison: it is the difference between Picasso and the later realist movements. It has taken over so much of the hobby, and when done well is gorgeous, interesting, and provides a pop that certainly stands out. But, I wouldn’t say it is particularly “real”. It is weathering and tonal variation overdone to the point of looking like the picture of an average looking person who is made up then ran through instagram filters until they look like someone different. It looks like the expression of an emotion instead of a nod to reality. It is a mood, not a visualization. It seems like what armor builders imagine of aircraft. I can appreciate the skill of the work, and the effort involved, without agreeing with the merits. To me, a significant nod should be given to realism. A picture of the model next to a picture of the real thing, should find little difference. Ironically, a great deal of the people who practice in the Spanish School would also tell you that they want realism in panel lines, rivet count, engine wiring, and other shape and visual indicators. They will argue endlessly about the correct shade of a color on some obscure Russian Yak, but then want to wipe all that away with exceedingly exaggerated color saturation, shading, weathering, and otherwise. I understand this is a wholly subjective critique of what is essentially a hobby of art…now get off my lawn!

In all, this was an amazing event. My criticisms are merely suggestions on how to refine something that is stellar already. My thanks to IPMS Chattanooga, and my congratulations to everyone who attended. You inspire me.

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Chattanooga Model Con 2019: It’s all about the intangibles.

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This impressive 1/48 Vindicator won “Best Aircraft” of 2019

Of the shows that I have attended, or attend regularly, Chattanooga has the most unique judging methodology. In most other shows models are entered into general categories (aviation, armor, ships, figures, cars, etc), then divided into sub-categories (scale, time period, type, etc), and then judged against each other, usually by a team of judges. After judging, the top three builds of each sub-category are given awards, then from those winners, the top build of each category is given a “best of [category]” award, then there is a “best of show” award chosen from those winners. For lack of a better term, this is competitive model building. It is sport for artists.

Chattanooga does it differently. Model Con begins like most other shows by dividing models into categories but then disregards all sub-categories. Each model within a category is judged by a three judge panel. Awards are given (or not) for each build insofar as that every build is ostensibly judged against a perfect version of itself, not against other builds. The judges are allowed to award 1-5 points for build quality (5 being “near perfect”) and 1-5 points for finish (5 being “near perfect”). Then, the judges are allowed, but not required, to give up to 1 point for “intangibles”. Intangibles, as defined by the club itself, are a “reward for extra effort for tackling what [the judges] know to be a difficult kit, or for adding a significant amount of extra detail, or for making significant corrections to an inaccurate kit…or for presentation…or for ‘something special’.” The three judges scorecards are averaged and an aggregate score is given that correlates to an award.

  • Gold: 9.8 to 11 points.
  • Silver: 7.89 to 9.79 points.
  • Bronze: 6 to 7.88 points.

The judges at Chattanooga, regardless of this scoring system, are therefore explicitly given the leeway to choose the kit that will win the “best of” category (requires an average of a score of 11 based on all three judges giving the build 5s for both build quality and finish but also all adding a point for “intangible”) based on their subjective knowledge of the kit’s construction, or difficulty. This is the only show where I’ve seen an attempt to quantify or qualify what is otherwise known as “judge’s discretion”.

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All of mine were gold, but none went to 11.

All that said, the most interesting thing about the Chattanooga format is that the scorecards are returned to the modeler as feedback. For each build you can see how the judge scored the kit on build quality, finish, and intangible, often with notes.

Where other model shows are competitive, Chattanooga is, when at it’s best, a clinic. Not only is it a great gauge of the quality of your models, but the feedback can help drive your quality to the next level. I’ve found that in general their scoring system is indicative of how models will place at other shows that I attend and therefore it is a good barometer of how my skills are evolving. I give them 1 point for intangible for that effort, but a 4 of 5 on the quality of their experience otherwise.

The only negative comment that can be leveled against the Chattanooga show is that it is very long. The show itself is a two day affair and registration cuts off at noon on the second day. It is typically well after 4pm the second day before the awards are given. In fact, by the time awards are announced many, if not most, vendors have even packed up and left. As a man who loves everything about the hobby, and who spends a great deal of time looking through the various vendors tables and other entries, this show wears me down to attend. I am very ready to leave when it’s over.

That said, the quality of the entrants was, as per usual, high. I spent a great deal of time perusing the and admiring many of the builds (check out my full album of the event here). Below are a few of the builds that caught my eye:

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I give the award for “Most Ambitious” to this impressive 1/32 B-25 with lights and a spinning prop.

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The award for “Hardest to Transport” goes to this movie quality Millenium Falcon in what I can only guess is 1/32 scale?

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This 1/48 Spitfire with invasion stripes, spot on weathering, and beer barrels, gets my award for “Historically Accurate Intangibles”.

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My award for “Best Finish” goes to this Ford and Trailer. I marveled at that for a long time, and I don’t generally give cars too much attention.

In all it’s another great effort by the Chattanooga club, and the participants. I am looking forward to attending the IPMS Nationals that Chsttanooga will be hosting in August. Let’s hope I can get my P-61 finished in time.

IPMS Middle TN, 2018

My fourth year back in the hobby, and my fourth year at the IPMS middle Tennessee show. The guys and gals that put on this show every November do a stellar job; it’s consistently organized and efficient with logical categories, fair judging and a great atmosphere. I have to give a great deal of credit to this show specifically for reigniting the flame I have for this hobby.

I don’t understand why this show doesn’t have significantly more entrants given its proximity to a major market like Nashville. That said, there seems to be a core group of attendees that consistently enter the quality of work that would be competitive at any of the “bigger” shows I have attended. Beyond them, there are always a few new people attending that bring their work from other major markets. Yesterday, for instance, I overheard a group of modelers say they had driven the four hours from Atlanta to attend.

One of the things that impressed me was the amount of youth involvement. The youth table was unusually full when compared to any show I’ve been to. This was further evident by the number of grasshoppers I saw during the awards announcements. I’m happy to see that interest in the hobby is growing among the younger crowd as I know how important this hobby was to me at their age. Even at my age it still gives me a sense of challenge, accomplishment, and a connection to history that was as equally important to me then.

For the second year in a row, and by some unbelievable miracle, I won best aircraft. Last year the 1/32 Tempest Mk V won, this year the 1/32 FW190A-7 took the prize.

All of the entries were great, some were outstanding. Here are just a few that caught my eye for any number of reasons.

Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, I will definitely be back for the 2019 version of this show.  Apparently 2019 will be the 40th anniversary of the Middle Tennessee Model show, and as that will also be my 40th year on this planet, I don’t think I can miss it.

Congratulations both to the IPMS Middle TN chapter for their hard work and a successful show, and to all of the modelers who put their work on the table to be judged.   Great job everyone!

Huntsville Plastic Model Society Show 2018

Today I made the trek to Huntsville, Alabama, to participate in their 42nd annual model show. It was my second time attending. I had almost decided not to waste a good summer Saturday with a trip down into the gaping maw of the Crimson Elephant, but I’m glad I decided to go. This experience was far better than my first sojourn to the Rocket City in 2017.

The official announcement, last I heard, was over 500 entries. The skill across the board was as high as I’ve seen in my tri-annual circuitous route spanning from just outside Nashville to Chattanooga to Huntsville. I’m now in my 4th season into the world of “competetive” model building, and have made several pleasant acquaintances and recognize some familiar faces that seem to be travelling the same circuit as I.

Huntsville, at least in my experience, is a relative oddity when it comes to judging. The aircraft categories are grouped into 1/48 and larger, or 1/49 and smaller. This means that 1/48, 1/32, 1/24 and even larger builds will be grouped together based on being divided into columns such as “single engine, axis” or “single engine, other”. If it’s not readily apparent, my feeling is that the categories, especially the ones I’ve listed as examples, are both too narrow and too broad simultaneously.

With the amount of entries, it seems Huntsville could follow a more generalized pattern of 1/72 and smaller, 1/48, 1/32, and larger than 1/32 (or other) categories. The eye for detail, complexity of the build, and the ability to obtain realism where those factors intersect, seems to me to vary greatly between those common scales.

Regardless, I was lucky enough to take home a gold medal for my Trumpeter BF109F-4 “Yellow 14” as flown by Jans-Joachim Marseille. My 1/32 Revell Mk IIa Spitfire and 1/32 P-40N didn’t make the cut. C’est la vie, say the old folks.

That said, there were a few builds that caught my eye for any number of reasons.

First was this fun scene from Top Gun. It certainly got a chuckle out of me. Notice Goose keeping up foreign relations.

Next was this ambitious monster showing off the internals of the Nazi’s “bat wing”. Very well done from my glancing birds eye view.

Third was this paper space shuttle. It really was jaw dropping in scale, and its paper. I guess that’s what the P stands for in IPMS? I’ve been doing it wrong!

Next was this 1/32 Mosquito. I didn’t look to see if it was the HK or the Tamiya, but I believe this is the first big Mossie I’ve seen on the tables.

Finally, in reality, there were just too many good builds to try to list all of the eye catching workmanship. Browse through the photos and see for yourself.

To those that spent the time organizing the contest, you should be proud. The turn out was great and the atmosphere pleasant. Thanks for having me.