How much is too much?

Why do kits seem to be getting more complex and do we really need all of that detail?

“Maybe I’m alone in this, but these days with less time to build, failing eyesight and energy levels that would give a sloth, kittens, the appearance of a new kit rammed full of hundreds of parts fills me with if not horror, then certainly trepidation”

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Look, kits are becoming more complex aren’t they? That’s a fact, right? We no longer expect to buy a small box of plastic parts that we can assemble on the kitchen table on a rainy Saturday afternoon whilst listening to Sports Report; now we expect that every nut, bolt fastener and rivet is present and correct and we expect them all to be separate parts. It’s all about the detail!

As a child I remember flicking through the Airfix catalogues and being drawn to the kits that announced that they featured over 100 parts. Being used to kits that contained 25, I loved the idea that some were real value for money by offering more little pieces to glue together. The fact that the resulting model was no larger, no more detailed and often of a subject that I didn’t really give two hoots about was irrelevant: I wanted those kits and I — almost — didn’t care how I got hold of them.

As the years passed by, kits that featured 100 parts became the norm, detail was increasing and as a result of that, so were the number of parts that kits included. Moulding constraints were being removed bit by bit and with the introduction of CAD and the need to no longer actually produce patterns for the parts being incorporated into the latest releases, designers could offer hitherto unseen levels of detail and finesse. With detail came parts; with finesse came complexity; with complexity came a shift from simple, quick-build kits, to the über complex packages that we see today.

Though still on offer from the world’s kit manufacturers, simpler kits are less prevalent than they once were and the idea that where it was once okay to offer larger, detailed parts, now, broken-down sections are the norm. I’m okay with the idea that we have more detail to enjoy, where it annoys me is where unnecessary detail is offered, not for the sake of the model or the modeller, but as some kind of shorthand for “aren’t we clever” by the designers. Kits in many cases today are less a relaxing pastime, more a battle of wills more akin to an Iron Man Challenge.

Armour kits are often the worst offenders. It’s now the norm to see kits with 1000+ parts. Full interiors are the norm, tiny sections of invisible detail broken down into sub-assembles that take an evening to put together. A few hours of assembly results in little more than a pile of unrecognisable bits, than a half-built model. Projects that used to take weeks to complete, now take months to assemble. Modellers are now building two models a year, when in the past they may have built ten.

Looking at these incredibly complex kits, I can’t help but wonder how Shep Paine and Francois Verlinden would have coped, today. During the 1970s, part of their fascination was that they were turning out dioramas on an almost weekly basis, new releases being hoovered up as they hit the model shop shelves. Many of the kits that they showcased were simple affairs that could be built in a few days, so painting was only several hours away. How would they have faired today when faced with the latest kits from some of the world’s manufacturers? Of course back then they also had less choice, so that would have clouded the issue, but how many Trumpeter Smerch kits do you think they could have constructed in a year – one, two…Three? And no, I’m not picking on Trumpeter!!!

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Maybe I’m alone in this, but these days with less time to build, failing eyesight and energy levels that would give a sloth, kittens, the appearance of a new kit rammed full of hundreds of parts fills me with if not horror, then certainly trepidation. I tend to assess a kit on how long I think it will take to construct and then map that into a day. Last year for instance, I had a go at a T-80 that contained the thick need of 1000 parts. It took over one whole week of work to assemble – that’s over 50 hours and during that time, I applied not one drop of paint. Now, think about that and how a hobby modeller would deal with a project like that; I know some guys who have around 5 hours per week to build models – that would be ten weeks to build it and then perhaps the same length of time to paint the results. I’m sorry, but I would have to love a subject to spend twenty weeks on an out-of-the-box build! In fact, I just wouldn’t even consider it!

Look, I get it, I really do – modellers love the detail and they love the complexity of the completed models. But here’s the thing, in the main, they don’t love the construction. I have spent countless hours talking to modellers who tell me that assembly is just a distraction from the good bit: painting. Whole websites, magazines, Blogs and discussion groups have sprung up on the art of painting, weathering and presentation of the results. Point me in the direction of just one that deals with the pleasure that we get from gluing together 1000 tiny plastic parts, 750 of which will never be seen again! Not many, are there?

In this day and age of CAD rendered hyper kits that can be moulded with scale thickness parts, I see no reason why model kits cannot be simplified. I see a huge number of different kits covering all genres and there are numerous times when I look at a sub-assembly and think “why is that five pieces, when one would have sufficed?”. Roadwheels in tank kits with separate tyres and hubs: why? Sprockets with individual bolts: why? Engine bay interiors in aircraft kits that have no way of showing them off: why? Strip them back. If a kit that is planned to be 1000 parts can be 500, make it 500 – after all, that’s what Tamiya has been doing for decades! Better still: make it 300!

At 8am on a Thursday morning as I write this, I can already sense the response to my thoughts. Yeah, but you just don’t understand that we need the detail, we want to build the most detailed models we can and we just love those kits that allow us to do that! Yeah… But at what cost? With every passing day, the kits that are offered are more complex, more difficult to build and more expensive. Those impressive packages that you see on model shop shelves, the ones with 65 runners, they have to be paid for and as result, the more expensive the kits are, the less modellers buy them and the small market that exists to prop up these sales, shrinks. Think about that; you have £150 to spend on kits, what will help sustain the market most? You buying one kit from one manufacturer, or three from three different ones, three kits that are simpler in approach and cheaper as a result? Yeah, but that’s not basic economics, bud! Sell for the most you can get for them, it’s all about the bottom line! Yeah, sure it is, but with average kit prices for these high-end products seemingly running towards £100, how sustainable is that business model?

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At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what I think, modellers will always chose what they want to build. It’s also not like there aren’t options as well, Tamiya for instance still sticking religiously to their founding premise of offering high-quality kits that are simple to build with low(ish) parts count. I just wonder (and worry, if I’m honest) that many of the new, more complex items are a step too far and that modellers are more likely to be put off by the complexity that they see in each one, than they are excited by the prospect of assembly one and displaying the results and I wonder how in the long term, the increasingly complex, time consuming nature of these new plastic model kits will be of interest to modellers with less time, less money and less determination to complete them.

See you next time.

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38 thoughts on “How much is too much?

  1. D. Mac July 6, 2017 / 8:22 am

    I got back to the hobby about two years ago, and have completed very few models. Not enough time blah blah blah as most modellers.

    I feel this way you have described about Eduard’s Good Morning Da Nang F-4B Phantom: fantastic kit! BUT: I am tackling it for over a year now, with very long “forgotten in the box” periods, the photoetched details in the cockpit have become a pain in the neck, and it just doesn’t move forward.

    And don’t get me talking about the seats, and the stencils – a true nightmare!

    I am shifting to simpler and often older kits, with much less detail (maybe a bit more of putty/sanding fun) and higher kit turnout.

    Great blog!

  2. Jon Bius July 6, 2017 / 8:40 am

    I’ve always said my preferred kit “profile” is a 1/48 scale World War II aircraft with about 50-60 parts. Tamiya’s 1/48 Spitfire Mk. Vb and Accurate Miniatures’ 1/48 P-51A are, in my mind, perfect examples.

  3. Laurent July 6, 2017 / 10:04 am

    Several ideas:

    – kit producers are usually small companies with few if no employees (but subcontractors instead) so the boss influence on product management is very important; the risk is that he may design kits based on what he thinks customers expect but not on what customers actually expect

    – CAD design just make development quicker but it doesn’t allow making more detailed kits: this depends on the capabilities of the CNC, EDM and injection machines used. Of course the more they’re capable, the more they are expensive. Take an aircraft kit fuselage half. For surface detailing (panel lines, riveting) the tricky part is the area near the base: if 3-axis CNC is used, tool tip isn’t perpendicular to the surface in this area but tangent to the surface so no crisp details can be done. If 4/5-axis CNC is used, the details can be done crisp but then undercuts may prevent sprue release after injection so slide moulds could be necessary. Another way of managing undercuts can be breaking down the kit into more parts but it’s also a problem: more sprues > bigger box > less boxes in a carton > more cartons for a fixed number of boxes > shipment and storage more expensive

    I think the “über Kit” trend is eroding. People who buy “wonder kits” may be intimidated to build them (“I’d make a mess of it with my current skills”) and, given that the stash size isn’t infinitely expandable, customers may buy less of them which is of course no good for the producers. This is why I believe kit producers are starting to come back to simpler kits. Still the prices remain high because more capable machines are used.

  4. Peter Maher July 6, 2017 / 10:28 am

    Laurent…spot on. While kits with high parts count are impressive, so are costs. Most of which are unnecessary as you point out that today’s molding technology provides the ability to produce more detailed parts with less sub assembly, meaning fewer overall parts, meaning more reasonable kit prices. One of my fellow modelers built a 1/35 Sherman, a very detailed DEL kit, and cut of all the bolt heads from the bogey wheels in order to replace them with after market parts. He felt they were not scale looking! My God you can’t tell this on a real tank once the wheels have been primed and painted. Too much OCD inhabits our hobby!

    • Walter P Miller July 6, 2017 / 1:41 pm

      Once I went to a hobby group in Nashville. One of the guys said the 1/35th scale Tamiya Panther was 3mm too narrow. So he shimmed it to make it right. 3mm!!!!

      • Gerry Stencell July 6, 2017 / 3:17 pm

        Rivet counters … bah humbug. If it looks and walks like a duck, it is a duck.
        Some just take perfection to the max, OR, just want to show how superior they are.

      • Gaston July 10, 2017 / 5:11 pm

        3 mm on a short lateral dimension is absolutely huge. In 1/35th it is going on to near half a foot: You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

      • spencerp6745 July 10, 2017 / 5:18 pm

        3 mm in reality would be 105 mm on the real vehicle, or 4 inches – not half a foot…

  5. Kenneth David Hanson July 6, 2017 / 11:53 am

    I am a modeler who appreciates the level of detail available in today’s kits, but I will always steer to the lower parts count kits, as my build time is very limited, and I use modeling as an escape from the day-to-day stress of my full time job. I don’t need the added aggravation of 500 fiddly parts to deal with. I’m quite happy improving my building & painting skills on a cheap Airfix, Matchbox, Monogram or Revell kit.

  6. Bruce Culver July 6, 2017 / 1:29 pm

    This is an excellent analysis – the tragedy in many cases is that once the model is primed, painted and weathered, you can’t see the details well enough to know whether they were molded into the next higher assembly or lovingly placed one by one….. I have always felt 1/48 was a superb scale for armor modeling, large enough for reasonable detail and small enough to have a decent collection without needing to build a display building. But the primary advantage is that most of the kits (there are exceptions) are by Tamiya and have lower parts counts so that it is not unusual for modelers to report building a small to medium size kit in a weekend, sometimes including the painting. I’m 76 and have poor close-up vision due to retinal damage, so building simpler kits is pretty much where I have to be. Most current 1/48 armor kits allow you to build what you want – OOB will give you a nice looking model, but if you apply advanced techniques and aftermarket bits to them, you usually can’t tell a gussied -up 1/48 model from a well-built 1/35 version.

    • Gerry Stencell July 6, 2017 / 3:19 pm

      I always build out of the box. I may add details if it is an easy add.

  7. Stas July 6, 2017 / 1:39 pm

    I think, that there are few (at least two) approaches to a plastic scale modelism in general.
    1. The model is a quest. Mechanical puzzle, which, if you’ll be patient and skilled enough, in the end will replicate the original tank (plane, ship, whatever…). And, the more sophisticated the puzzle – the greater you will enjoy the result (as a “ravensburger” picture puzzles – from 25 up to 3000 pieces with the same result… And the followers of that way are enjoying the details count, but afraid of painting process.
    2. The model is a 3-dimensional canvas. Let them glue some general details together – and here the magic of painting starts. With brush and airbrush they create a depth, a details, a history and a character.

    And the market will follow both of this tendencies (as we seen on latest simplified but perfect Meng’s glueless planes).

  8. Scott Sayer July 6, 2017 / 1:56 pm

    I understand where your coming from, and call m strange, but I do like the high part count kits. I enjoy the assembly and all the PE. I built the HK Models 1/32 B-17G with all of the PE available except the flaps. It took me over 14 months and I estimate 700 hours or so. I loved it! It was like building 10 separate little models that assembled into one huge masterpiece. Each sub assembly was a kit unto itself. In fact I liked it so much, I have started on the new F model! Yes, they’re spendy, I had 18 bottles of Alclad sprayed on the thing by time I was done, but it was an absolute joy to build.
    For about 30 years, I was a plastic injection mold maker, so I can appreciate the detail that goes into the kits. I’ve since moved out of the shop and into engineering, so builds like this provide a satisfaction that was missing until I rediscovered model building. Of course I like throwing together a quick Tamiya Tiger every so often, but the big builds offer me something the quick ones don’t.

  9. Harman July 6, 2017 / 2:05 pm

    I don’t need 120-ish parts just to assemble an ejection seat.

    I do appreciate the attention to details but what’s the point if all the bits will later be tucked under the chassis or hidden deep inside the engine, never to be seen again?

  10. Scott Moffett July 6, 2017 / 2:10 pm

    I agree that the parts count could be greatly reduced. Where I differ is that I love the building but dread the painting. But there is no reason to have tons of multi part assemblies that can’t ever be seen.

  11. Mike Roof July 6, 2017 / 2:11 pm

    Sorry but you’re not speaking for me. I love construction and the challenge of adding details. I also don’t find it a “distraction” from painting and finishing, which I also love. I’d suggest that for those modelers who don’t have the time (or don’t want to spend it building), have trouble seeing and handing small parts, or who lack the “energy” (motivation?), select kits that are more in keeping with your own hobby goals and desires. It’s unreasonable for you to expect (demand?) that EVERY kit made has be dumbed down to your personal skill level and desired amount of effort. There are plenty of easy kits out there for you. Heck, if you just want to line up built models on a shelf, then you can collect pre-built and finished models.

    • spencerp6745 July 6, 2017 / 2:27 pm

      Unfortunately, when you build models for a living and have to build across all skill levels, the idea of not choosing the more time consuming projects, doesn’t really come into it – sometimes, I wish it did!!!

      • Mike Roof July 7, 2017 / 3:02 pm

        If you build models for a living, then your perspective and opinion about this is not that of an average hobbyist. You’re operating under an entirely different set of job imposed constraints and limitations. If your client / patron demands a build that’s based on a more time-consuming kit, then it’s up to the client to pay for the extra time. If your client doesn’t want to pay for the work, then you find another client. If he values your skill and art, then he’ll be willing to pay for it. I’ve done a considerable amount of commission model building, and frankly, it’s not worth the money for exactly that reason. Model building takes more time than most clients are willing to pay for. For this reason, I only take on the very rare commission build that I find personally interesting, and then I don’t worry about the labor costs (only the materials). If you’re really in it to make a living, then you need to be dispassionate enough about how you price the work that you’re charging what your time is worth and final costs reflect the total time involved. Complex and time-consuming models are just a fact that your client has to face up to, or he has to be willing to change his specs to a less complex model.

      • spencerp6745 July 7, 2017 / 3:07 pm

        I don’t build models for commissions, I edit a modelling magazine, a job I’ve done full time for the last 20 years. As such, it’s part of my job to discuss the hobby, the industry and the changes that take place within both – hence this Blog. Being dispassionate is part of the process, as is the need for starting conversations that involve other modellers and their opinions – thanks for being part of that aspect of the process…

  12. obob July 6, 2017 / 2:39 pm

    fills me with if not horror
    *******************************

    That’s a copy & paste. You need an editor. Sorry, I can’t even get started on the article.

    • spencerp6745 July 6, 2017 / 2:46 pm

      Thanks for noticing! An editor that sees simple cut ‘n’ paste errors and then chooses to comment on a Blog rather than reading it – how much do you charge Mr. Obob? Let me know! 🙂

  13. Dave Royer July 6, 2017 / 2:42 pm

    I just started modeling again after a 25 yr hiatus and was shocked at how large (ans expensive) the Dragon kits were compared to the Tamiya kits I built back in the 70’s and 80’s . I totally agree with your take Spencer that less is better at least for my 52 yr old eyes and patience.

  14. glenn July 6, 2017 / 3:17 pm

    i remember the old kits
    not many parts
    lots of flash
    40 years later, im still building
    not as much as i used to with the prices skyrocketing
    i was happy with the less parts
    now, half blind and having to use glasses, magnifiers etc to build
    i see these kits with tons of parts
    i actually enjoy the high parts count even tho its hard to see
    im even adding more by using photo etch sets and scratch building on top of the high parts count
    im just happy i can still build
    and yes, i still enjoy the old kits
    waiting for 2 real old ones to arrive
    i built them as a kid, and now going to build the same kits as an old timer

    • Tony Bell July 6, 2017 / 6:15 pm

      I had no idea e e cummings is a modeller…

  15. Tom Dailey July 6, 2017 / 4:11 pm

    I returned to modeling in 2015 after a 28 year hiatus . 1/35 armor has always been my interest . At 62 , my eyes aren’t that good and my wife says my fine motor skills are not . I started with cheap Eastern European made kits from a thrift shop . Fit wasn’t good and fingers were out of practice . The trumpeter and Hobby Boss kits aren’t overdone for me , but indi track links are still something I haven’t tried . The parts count in mostWWII Russian kits I’ve had isn’t bad and I do like the greater selection and molding quality. An old Tamia kit is still best cure for what ails me .

  16. Soryama July 6, 2017 / 4:35 pm

    Dragon Platz kits seek to reverse this trend. Reducing parts counts thru molding technology.

    Watch this video. It is directly relevant to this discussion.

    • spencerp6745 July 6, 2017 / 4:45 pm

      That’s very interesting – thanks very much! I’ll look into getting one of those… 🙂

      • ChrisR July 6, 2017 / 10:42 pm

        I built the Platz Panzer IV ausf D earlier this year. It was a relaxing build without all the hundreds of parts and looked as good as the more expensive part heavy Dragon issues. I was tempted to purchase another one but couldn’t justify it with all the kits I’ll never live long enough to build in my collection.

    • Dave Royer July 6, 2017 / 6:29 pm

      I glad to see this. I would often look at the Dragon kits at my local hobby shop and just shake my head. The $60 – $90 price tag made me choke as well. Hopefully the cost is more reasonable for the new line.

  17. Asrar Bin k. Ahmad July 6, 2017 / 5:45 pm

    A sum up of this article, more detail but less parts is the future of scale modelling.

  18. Steven Brown July 6, 2017 / 9:02 pm

    For those of us in our 40s and 50s, with time quickly passing by and with more models than we can build in our remaining years, complexity just slows us down, resulting in fewer models actually finished. It comes down to this: In the course of your lifetime do you want to build 200 highly detailed models or 500 moderately detailed models? Each of us will answer that differently…and the answer may change as we get older.

  19. Mark Sullivan July 6, 2017 / 10:47 pm

    Case in point for the positive…. Meng’s Tiger 2, retails at under $60 Australian, streets ahead of Tamiya offering which is still $20 more expensive….you want .interior?, available for the same price as the base kit. I am in my 5th age of model making after a number of large breaks. I enjoy the level of detail but can’t fathom why kits are made so complex when most of the detail will be hidden. Minute PE parts frighten me off models…I want to enjoy the hobby, not be stressed by it. I endeavour to give a good scale finish to my models, most of which is reinforced with painting and weathering, otherwise known as good old fashioned skill. Detail is important to me but not at the risk of turning me away from the hobby, which has become a very expensive past time now. I also get annoyed at the hobby mags where kits are augmented with aftermarket goodies, doubling the cost of the former…there is an inference that these after market bits are necessary as the kit is inadequate as fielded.

  20. tonyo262 July 6, 2017 / 11:14 pm

    Welcome to your dotage Spencer! hope you are well.

  21. Rene de Koning July 6, 2017 / 11:28 pm

    Although I am now retired and have much more time to pursue my hobbies – which I do – I still shy away from the more complex and larger part count kits in preference for the likes of Tamiya, as their kits are a joy to behold and have renewed my faith in modelling. However, that’s not to say that I don’t tackle a more demanding build from time to time, but when I do I tend to intersperse them amongst more simpler builds – 1/72 aircraft – to keep the motivation going. Like you’ve stated, we have also noticed at our major annual competition that the number of entrants continues to remain high, but that the number of entries has diminished and the cause for this maybe related to age, eyesight, time and the complexity of the newer kits.

  22. Michael Douglas Scott July 6, 2017 / 11:45 pm

    After re-reading your comments and thinking more about them, I have this to offer.

    I’d say that the percentage of available kits that are more, or highly, complex is larger now than in years past. Of course, the market for scale model kits is also larger.

    You state that, “…where it annoys me is where unnecessary detail is offered, not for the sake of the model or the modeller, but as some kind of shorthand for ‘aren’t we clever’ by the designers.” I wonder if many modelers who enjoy building with significant detail would agree with your view. They might appreciate this kind of cleverness in that it gets the modeler more detail and parts to work with.

    Many of the responses to your post assume that the end result of building and painting a model is that others will see and appreciate it. Why then build a full interior on that Hetzer? Why assemble, detail, plumb and wire that Rolls Royce that won’t be seen anyway? Why is Airfix offering a detailed interior on their new B17G? I’d put forward the idea that some modelers enjoy creating the eventually hidden details because it’s a kind of modeling they enjoy. A modeler may indeed get to experience in a virtual kind of way what the interior of that Hetzer is actually all about. It doesn’t really matter if someone else can’t also “see” that detail. That wasn’t why the modeler chose to create it in the first place.

    I think the matter of complexity and the amount of detail offered in a kit is an attribute that relates directly to a modeler’s goals. One person may enjoy simpler kits, like 1:48 armor, and in a given period turn out, say, six different models and enjoy both the process and the results. Another person may spend the same amount of time assembling, detailing, painting, etc. one armor kit and get as much joy from the process as the other modeler.

    I suspect the market is catering to both types – the person who likes detail in a reasonable degree, detail and complexity that is expressed with a lower parts count and shorter build time, and also the person who enjoys the time and effort required to produce a complex and finely detailed model regardless of whether anyone else is able to observe all of the handiwork that went into it.

    Personally, l like some of both.

  23. Eric McLoughlin July 8, 2017 / 11:58 am

    As a modeller of rapidly advancing age, I too balk at starting models with hundreds and hundreds of pieces.
    In reality, I am happy to build moderately complex models combined with, now and then, simple builds. Simple builds are necessary sometimes to reinvigorate interest as a long drawn out build can sap enthusiasm.

  24. jajeczny July 8, 2017 / 12:02 pm

    I have little space in my home for hobby, but i would rather make one super detailed model instead of a bunch of simplified ones. Probably im in the minority, but painting is only a necessity to make model look realistic, all the fun im getting is from assembling. When it comes to compexity, You always have choice not to assemble interior, or strip some of the exterior parts, but, they are very important when you want to make a custom setup, like a wreck, damaged or during engine/suspension service. Without those, you’ll need to buy more separate kits or simplify parts that need partial reworking.

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