The Great Gundam Build Experiment.

A quiet and relaxing interlude.

One day, once upon a time, a Perfect Grade Gundam model fell into my hands, and I began to ponder how to take advantage of this windfall. I knew I was intending to go to Fanime. I knew I (suddenly) had an unstarted model. I knew Gundam Build Fighters had begun to reignite the Gundam building craze.

This suggested its own experiment. I wanted to see what kind of response some weirdo sitting in the middle of the convention building a complex model would get. Would I be asked to leave my location for loitering? Would other builders join me, and start building their own kits? Would con staff ask me relocate due to there being too large a crowd? Would I be offered up my own hall to lead a build-a-thon?

Thus begins The Great Gundam Build Experiment.

Day 1:

I arrive at the convention center later than I had intended. Luckily, due to a stop at Daiso before heading to the Con, I am prepared to build. I arrive armed with batteries (necessary to light up the mono-eye of the head,) nail files and a fingernail buffer to aid in finishing the kit surfaces.

But my plans are in vain. I wind up exploring the convention, meeting up with friends old and new, checking out the Artist Alley and Dealers Hall, and committing general con-related deeds.

Today's experiment: FAILED!!

Day 2:

This day, as last day, I am prepared to spend a good amount of my day sitting at one of the tables on the main concourse, building a model of a giant mecha, and talking to whoever decides to come up and talk to me.

After a late breakfast, I arrive at the main concourse, giant box in hand, and pick a table to be my base camp for this build. Within a couple of minutes I hear whispering. It's working, I think.

Within a half hour, the first question arrives. "Did I buy the kit in the Dealers Hall?" (I didn't.) They wish me luck and go their merry way. Within two hours, the first part of the Zaku II is complete, the head:

FIXME photo

I install the batteries and show off the light-up moving eye. I spend the rest of the day occasionally showing it off to people who pause on their walk to watch me work, retelling the story of how I came to be in possession of the kit. We also talk about Gundam building, and model building in general. I'm feeling quite proud of myself.

And yet I cannot rest on my laurels. At about the three hour mark I've made progress on one arm, and two guys sat at my table to talk about the build. After the usual bout of questions, we began talking about the different Gundam series, and model building in general. A young man joins us and asks a fairly pertinent question:

How does one pick a model to begin building?

We look at each other, each sensing that the others know, but no one has a good way to articulate it. Eventually we reach the consensus that, if you have watched any of the Gundam series, and you have a particular mecha you are already drawn to, pick up a version of that mech's kit and go to town. If, on the other hand, you don't really know anything about the series, but just like the idea of building a model, find a kit that calls to you or just looks interesting to you, and build that one.

The key is that it's personal. You just feel it in your ghost.

I explain how that was my personal introduction to Gundam building, when I saw a Master Grade model of the Nu Gundam on sale in the Dealers Hall at Animagic 2001. I bought the kit on the strength of its looks (you would have too. It was amazing.) I started building it that day at the convention and have continued ever since. Since I have the hand of the model built, I use it to illustrate the differences between High, Master, and Perfect in level of detail and complexity. He thanks me for my time, wishes me luck, and continues on his way.

At the five hour mark, the arm looks quite good:

FIXME pic

My table mates have remained with me the entire time, largely in companionable silence while I work. I really enjoy that, interspersed with the occasional comment about one Gundam series or robot or another. Other people drop by, sit and watch for a while. Occasionally someone will, very politely, pick up a completed piece to examine it and put it back. (Have I mentioned that, in certain ways, in various circumstances, otaku are very polite and scrupulous people? They are.)

One in particular stands out, a quiet man who attended the building process for two hours with apparent fascination. Silence is only awkward if you think it is.

Somewhere along the six hour mark, my original table mates take their leave and wish me luck, promising to check up on me throughout the convention to chart my progress.

6:17PM:

I have completed the second arm and consider it a good enough stopping point to pack up and go eat. It is at this point that I see the first downside to the experiment: It's too much effort to pack up and put the kit away to consider trying to get food.

I also had not thought to procure cash to at least ask a passing acquaintance to make a food run for me. By this point I am quite famished, so I make my way to my hotel room to stash the model and go out in search of sustenance.

P.S. at some point in the night, the head and hand join forces with a bartending robot to make a bartending party robot.

TODO photo Today's Experiment: On Task. Perfect Grade Model Zaku II: 30-35% complete.

Day 3:

After yesterday's experience with how difficult it is to try to get up from the table once the building starts, I planned accordingly and brought along two bottles of root beer to at least meet some of my carb requirements for the day. I hope to work a bit longer and complete the model by the end of the day. After a good breakfast, I make my way back to the convention center.

As I reach the tables on the main concourse I saw that I seem to have started a trend. A group of Chinese men were already at the table, happily toiling away at models of their own. I ask if I might join them, receive a nod, and get to work, stealing glances at my companions. They appear to be working on a new version of Gundam models, called Real Grades. These are similar in scale to High Grade models (1:144 or 1:100 scale), but they are much more detailed and poseable than a standard High Grade.

We begin to work in companionable silence, each focused on our own kit with the occasional stop to look over at what each other is doing (mainly from my end, as I'm interested in the detail work of a new classification of Gundam model). Eventually, about two hours in, one of the other builders completes the finishing touches on his RG Zaku II:

TODO photo and I have to get a picture comparing the scale between his completed product, and the arm that I had completed the day before.

With his project done, he heads out. Members of his group came and went throughout the day, some joining in the build and others just enjoying the chance to sit and rest for a bit.

At some point my quiet companion from yesterday returns and continues to just sit in silence watching me work, occasionally picking up and examining completed pieces. The two Gundam fans from yesterday return to catch up on my progress and talk for a while about other Gundam mecha. A couple of hours later, a group of Zeonist cosplayers approach me to ask about the project and ask the question about picking an initial kit to start with.

It turns out that they're battle recreationists, with one of them saying he restores old transports and hardware. We commiserate about the constant unfinished state of projects, where one always has to be at a passable state before you can really start on another. Another young man came up to my table mates to ask a question about the clippers used to separate the individual pieces from the tree. Due to a language barrier the person asked was unable to answer and I stepped in to explain how a model accessories company called Tamiya has a kit which includes clippers, files, tweezers, screwdrivers and a hobby knife (link to the amazon or Tamiya page for the kit) available online, or he could go to his local hobby store and find a pair. I showed him my pair so that he could see the benefit of having a set with a flat back to make the flush cuts. (Never let it be said that I am not educational).

Four hours later: Completed a leg and opened one of my bottles of root beer to celebrate. This has been a hard-fought four hours and I am amazed at the result. I examine the leg, marveling at the different parts of it. I particularly like the level of detail in the knee joint, where it looks like there are actual working hydraulic systems aiding in the movement of the leg. There's also a hydraulic system that makes up what I have figured out to be the hip joint of the model.

But there's no rest for our hero. After this leg it only takes me another three hours to complete the other leg, as I have now figured out where I can cut corners on my filing and buffing, as some of the connection points will not be visible even when the armor is removed. (A purist would buff them anyway, of course, but my goal is to finish this con.)

And so the building comes along a bit quicker, but still a bit slower than I'd expected it to take, due to the occasional breaks to talk to people about how I came to acquire the kit, or how to pick a kit to build.

One man, slightly older, was surprised that I took on the endeavor of building such a complex kit where the instructions are in Japanese. I explained that if one can read and decipher IKEA instructions, one can quite easily figure out how to follow the build instructions for a Gundam model. For the most part, the kits snap together with occasional screws to hold the pieces together, with the hardest part being to make sure you are using the correct screw. In addition, with the injection molding trees being labeled with an alphabetical scheme and the individual pieces being numbered with the Arabic numerals we use in the states, following the instructions is a cakewalk.

At about the four or five hour mark, I noticed that a guy has sat down at the table next to us and begun to build a Zoids model. He occasionally lobs an insult or two about the supremacy of Zoids over Gundam models, but it's really just well-intentioned ribbing.

At about the six hour mark my tablemates have had enough of building and they bid their goodbyes. I look at what I have completed -- and how much more there is to go -- and decide that I am not yet hungry enough to warrant stopping. Shortly after Zoids guy lobs a final dig and heads out himself.

After an additional two hours, twenty minutes of which consist of searching for a gray joint piece on a gray carpet, I have completed the chest piece in which the pilot sits and head and arms can be joined to the body. By this point I am starting to experience some slight discomfort due to lack of nutrition.

I figure this is as good a place as any to stop for the day. I see the end of the tunnel, but I'm not sure how much time I will have tomorrow to work on the model -- what with having to check out of the hotel room, load up the car, say my goodbyes, and still catch a flight. But before all of that, food is in order.

Today's experiment: Delayed (?). Perfect Grade Model Zaku II: 75-80% complete. (pic from phone)

Day 4:

After checking out of the our hotel room and discovering that housekeeping has stolen my towel (in retaliation for all the towels that are stolen from them, no doubt), I have a hearty breakfast while I mull over just how much of the build is left. I decide to buckle down and finish the last two and a half pages of instructions. As I arrive at the concourse, I see that the Chinese builders are at a table themselves but their table is full, so I sit at a nearby table -- the table at which I had begun, as fate would have it -- and get to work.

As on the first day, it doesn't take long to start to hear the faint whisperings of people commenting that I am building an ornate kit. I attempt to look up when I can to try to appear approachable, but not too many take the bait. Eventually I get a bite -- someone asking again about the type of clippers I use and where to get a pair.

The Gundam pair return to see just how close I am to completion and congratulate me on getting it done by the end of the convention. The Zeonist cosplayers also return to note the progress and congratulate me on a job well done. At some point two to three hours in, a convention staffer who I assume was taking a much-deserved break stops by and discusses the particular model with me. He explains how he has built his fair share of this particular model, and we talk a bit about painting kits and about ways to distress the paint or damage the model to make it look like the mech has seen some battle. He provides the information that burning the left over injection molding trees (in a well-ventilated area mind you) provides a very good facsimile of powder burns when you let the smoke stain the model. He was quite the font of information, and I hope to someday have the experience in detailing a model as much as he described in the short 15 minutes we spoke.

Finally, after three hours, I have also completed the main body of the Zaku II. After this I just have to complete the shield and weapons and I am done with this kit.

After another hour and a half victory is mine. I have managed to complete the Perfect Grade MS-06 Zaku II.

Some of the Chinese builders from the other table come over to look at the completed build. One asks to get a picture of me with the finished product. I happily oblige him and beam behind my finished product. Zoids guy from yesterday also comes over to congratulate me on completing my goal of finishing the model just as the convention's closing ceremonies are going on.

We talk about tools we each use to make our respective models, with him describing having needed to purchase a travel grooming kit to get a nail clipper to start his work. I wax poetic on how the nail clipper is the beginning clipping tool of many an inexperienced model builder who is too impatient to start building and will utilize anything he can get his hands on. He describes how he felt bad making his girlfriend sit beside him for so many hours while he worked on his model, so he decided to get her a model of her own for her to work on. As I look over I notice she is doing just that. I congratulate him on finding a person who shares a common interest with him and wish them the best in their own future building.

While I have met my goal of finishing in the build of a Perfect Grade Gundam model during a convention, I had hoped I would have had the time to put on the decals and maybe even do some panel lining and actually have a truly finished product by the end of the convention. It really was my own fault that that I didn't completely finish. If I had actually begun on Friday instead of choosing to be lazy and put it off, I might have been done on day three of the convention. But then I might have had to find other things to fill my time with on the last day of the convention.

Overall, I think the secondary goal of the experiment was achieved. I had the opportunity to speak with a lot of people I otherwise might not have had a reason to talk to, and I was able to discuss many topics related Gundam models and modeling in general. I even learned a lot.

Would I do it again? I don't know if another Perfect Grade Gundam model will just fall into my lap as did the Zaku II, but I wouldn't mind having such an easy icebreaker to talk with random people at a convention.

In fact, if I did it again, I might make a sign letting people know that it's OK to stop and talk to me -- that there's a reason I'm doing this in public. My appearance of concentration might have put people off.

And I'll definitely make sure to get some cash beforehand so I can send someone on a food run for me.

Today's experiment: Failed (but just barely). Perfect Grade Model Zaku II: 99% complete.

TODO (pic of model in the box)
—aldo