A Judging Guide for Space and Science Fiction Models

Mike Mackowski

For modelers who are looking for that extra advantage to help them win a trophy, and to provide some guidance to judges who have to evaluate space and science fiction categories, I put together the guidelines in this article. Because these categories are so unique, and because they encompass so many types of models (airplane-like vehicles, robots, figures, boxy satellites, sleek science fiction ships, real space capsules, etc.), it is difficult to come up with general guidelines that cover all possible entries. Additionally, when it comes to judging, there are no rigid standards or hard criteria that can never be violated. Therefore, I will first provide some general suggestions on workmanship, followed by hints on more specific areas. I certainly welcome any comments and additions that readers may have on this topic.

Basic Workmanship

These general ground rules are the most common, and they apply to space modeling as much as they do to aircraft, armor, ships, or cars.

  • Basic construction is the first thing a judge will look at. There should be no seams, glue marks, or sanding scratches. Parts and joints should be filled where necessary. For scratchbuilt jobs, or for any "boxy" detailed spaceships, make sure the construction and detailing is uniform and to scale. That is, if you are going to have some panel lines or joints showing, be sure and do it the same way over the entire model.
  • Paint should be smooth and uniform, with no smudges, runs, or fingerprints. Colors can be almost anything, especially for scratchbuilt fantasy spaceships. Models from television and films should try to match the on-screen appearance, where ever possible. Exceptions always exist, so judges should not make a big issue over color.
  • Weathering, if done at all, should be subtle and to scale. Certainly a "used" fantasy spaceship can be fairly weathered, but I have seen many models where the effect is overdone or sloppy.
  • Decals should be of uniform finish (important if you are kit-bashing and getting decals from multiple sources) and have no film showing.
  • Rocket engine nozzles should generally have some sort of weathering, particularly on the inside. Photos of the Apollo vehicles in space show no weathering on the outside of the Service Module main engine, but the exterior of a Shuttle main engine shows multiple tones of black and metallic gray. The inside of a rocket nozzle should be streaked from the exhaust, and the exterior might show discoloration from high-temperature effects, much like the afterburner on a jet fighter. Small thrusters and steering rockets should be drilled or otherwise hollowed out, not solid.
  • Real Spacecraft

  • Re-entry vehicles (Space Shuttle, Apollo, etc.) should have some sort of aerodynamic weathering if they are modeled in a post-entry or landing mode.
  • Any scratchbuilt craft should supply references so that the judges have sufficient data to check details and accuracy. With the lack of kits - and references - in this field, back-up material is essential so that judges know the extent of your work.
  • Many kits that feature antennas (the 1/48th scale Lunar Modules come to mind) need to have the antennas replaced. The kit versions often appear too "fat" and lacking in detail.
  • Specific Hints

  • Space Shuttle Orbiter - Unless the model is of a brand-new vehicle, there should be weathering along the sides of the fuselage where the white tiles border on the low temperature insulation. The engine nozzles should be a dark metallic gray, with a lighter metallic dry-brushing to highlight the raised coolant lines.
  • The rear of a Gemini should have a gold-orange metallic thermal blanket over the open end of the white adapter section. I've seen nicely done Gemini capsules that have forgotten this feature, which can actually simplify building the model, since it hides all the details inside the adapter!
  • The Apollo Lunar Module is quite a colorful ship. The descent stage should be a mix of gold/orange and black foil, with the ascent stage a combination of aluminum and flat black panels. The descent engine is a flat medium gray color. The ascent engine is probably the same color as well, although you can hardly see it when the assembly is joined.
  • The Apollo Command Module has a highly-polished silver (not gold) metallic appearance in orbit. The Service Module has a flatter aluminum finish with white radiator panels near the forward end. After re-entry, the Command Module is a mixture of flat tan, brown, and gray, with a lot of weathering. The main engine is flat gray towards the rear, with the forward portion being a lighter, flat aluminum color.
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy Vehicles

  • When parts are added for detailing or texture, keep scale effects in mind. Conduits and pipes on a 1/200th scale model should be much smaller than those on a 1/32nd scale vehicle. Many science fiction kit-bashers forget this.
  • Concerning these added details, do they look useful and truly part of the ship, or have they been added just for "artistic effect" and look like they have just been slapped on? If the modeler used parts from other kits, has the source been disguised enough so that it isn't immediately obvious where the parts came from? There is nothing wrong with using parts from other kits (armor, ships, etc.), but seeing hub-caps, automobile transmissions, and tank hulls glued onto fantasy spaceships can distract from an otherwise well-done model.

  • About the Author

    Mike Mackowski is an engineer in the space industry and an avid modeler and space historian. He is also editor of the `Space In Miniature' publications, the Head Category Judge (Space and Science Fiction) for IPMS/USA, and has a column (`The View From Space City') in the IPMS Journal. He can be reached on-line at 71571.330@compuserve.com.