Build a Spaceship

A beginners guide to kit bashing.

If you want to build the Millennium Falcon you go and buy a millennium falcon kit. But what if you want to build a spaceship that only exists in your brain? What if you want to build something that would leave Han Solo in the dust next time he was thinking of doing the Kessel Run? Welcome to the wonderful world of kit bashing.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Build a spaceship using Greeblies
  • Where does the word Greeblies come from?
  • Where to get more Greeblies?
  • Previsualisation
  • Glue for modelling
  • Spaceship Design
  • Selling the scale
  • Painting and finishing your spaceship
  • Weathering

Build a spaceship – Introduction

The phrase kit bashing is nice and descriptive. Bash together parts from a bunch of old plastic model kits and see what you can come up with. However, there is a lot more to it than that and most kitbashed models also include items from a myriad of other sources than ‘proper’ plastic models.

It is incredibly satisfying to start with nothing but a bunch of old plastic junk and finish with a spaceship only existed before in your imagination. But how do you get started? I usually find the best place to start is the recycling bin. There are so many weird plastic shapes in packaging materials that we throw away that would be perfect for a space ship. Plastic bottles in particular are excellent resource. Check out this video. The core of the construction is an old computer mouse. Genius!

Duplication is often the key to success. look at this clever picture from the rather brilliant Murray Breen. Look how he has taken two asprin bottles and joined them together to create a new shape that is not recogniseable but serves as a brilliant base for adding lots of plastic strip detailing.

http://murraybreen.com/

Build a spaceship using Greeblies

What a wonderful word. ‘Greeblies’ is a catchall for the little ‘bits’ that get added onto spaceship models. What the bits actually do is generally up to the imagination of whoever is looking at the model.

In fact greeblies serve two major purposes. They are both a decoration and a disguise.

If you are using objects that have a distinctive shape then you will want to disguise the shape. Using stuck-on pipes, boxes, antennae, outlet vents, radar arrays and whatever else you can invent is a great way to make your starship look a lot less like a couple of washing up bottles that have been glued together.

In addition, a smooth spaceship is often (not always, but most often) a boring spaceship. We want solar arrays and beam emitters and ports and sections and all the stuff that made the millenium falcon look so amazing when it first appeared. Greeblies add detail and complexity which equates to scale in the eyes of the viewer.

Where does the word Greeblies come from?

According to television presenter Adam Savage, the term was coined by none other than the original creator and director of Star Wars, George Lucas.

So, in practical terms, what are greeblies? Very often they are the leftovers from half built plastic model kits. Savage notes that small greeblies from one particular Japanese model of a WW2 large calibre German Railway Gun ( Hasegawa 1:72 scale ‘Anzio Annie’) appeared on every single Star Wars film. Model makers find old kits and use the leftovers, placing them in configurations undreamed of by the kits original designers.

My current Greeblies box contains a couple of half completed Hawker Hurricanes (both 1:72  and 1:48 scales) and a small assortment of British and American tanks. There are also some plastic pill dispensers, a tic-tac box and a whole heap of bottle lids. There are also quite a few old plastic food trays in there somewhere.

Where to get more Greeblies?

I usually start in the bathroom. All sorts of strange bottle lids congregate around the end of the bath in our house. Soap dispenser nozzles look a lot like thruster jets to me.

All sorts of interesting plastic shapes can be found in the kitchen too.

Milk bottle seal

Take, for example the seal on a plastic milk bottle. The inside has a great series of even teeth. You can reverse it and loop it round a tubular element, or cut it into short strips to create something that looks to me like a vent. The extra tab shouldn’t be chucked away either. It has some nice little bumps on it that can be added to any surface needing more detailing.

Even a ballpoint pen lid has its uses. The straight part can be easily cut off to make an interesting flat ended pod. The round end just screams ‘jet nozzle’.

Pens are our friends

The local charity shop is a good option. Ask them to put aside broken toys they cannot sell and offer a small donation in return. If you get really friendly with your charity shop manager you could build a spaceship for them out of stuff they couldn’t sell. They could then use that as a story for the local press to get their shop some more publicity. In that way everyone wins.

When it comes to greeblies, the biggest bang for your buck, pound, yen, euro etc is said by some people to come from models of WWII submarines. They had great pipes, cranks and knobs which is fantastic, but the hull of the sub itself can often also be used in your spaceship’s construction.

The only warning I have with greeblies is that if you use truly iconic and hyper-recogniseable shapes they will detract from the realism of your model. A great example is a soda can ringpull, It is a great little aluminium widget and seems perfect for plastering onto a plain body panel. However the shape jumps out at us and kind of spoils the magic. I suggest that wherever you have a really well known shape, you should try to disguise it or consider an alternative greebly instead.

Previsualisation

We have been talking a lot about techniques and one thing that many model creators do is to sketch ideas on paper. This is not a necessity, but it does help fire the brain cells. It doesn’t matter one bit whether you are a great artist or a scrappy scribbler. Sketches are fun and can lead your models in unexpected directions. They can also help you develop a style that is all your own. So rather than jumping in with the glue next time you want to build a spaceship, why not start with paper and pencil?

build a spaceship previsualisation
Space cruiser
Fighter spacecraft

Glue for modelling

There are so many glues available that choosing which to buy can be a little daunting. Traditionally, liquid polystyrene cement was the glue of choice for plastic modellers whereas UHU or PVA were favoured by model railway ehtusiasts, because many older railway models were card based.

The other option is superglue and it has a lot of fans. Personally I glue my fingers together every time I use superglue so I try and avoid the stuff. I also recently discovered the hard way that when too much superglue and a piece of felt come in to contact a surprisingly robust exothermic reaction occurs. There was smoke and flames and I actually burned the skin off one of my fingertips last week, so I will definitely be keeping away from superglue for the foreseeable future. You have been warned.

My suggestion is to start with something like Tamiya Liquid Cement or Revel Contacta (actually this is my favourite because it comes in a clever shaped bottle with a needle like applicator nozzle for fine control of how much glue gets applied and where it ends up).

Creating rivets from pva glue

One other use for glue is to add little rows of dots that dry as bumps. I prefer pva glue for this little hack. Once your row of dots has dried it can be painted to look like rivets, giving a great retro-grungy look to your craft. Make the surface around the rivets a little darker and dry brush slightly lighter paint on the tops to bring out the depth further.

Build a Spaceship: design

I used to read forum posts where people would delve into lengthy paragraphs about how a spaceship should be designed. I remember one guy who wrote pages and pages about how mixing organic shapes (curvy shampoo bottles) with hard boxy shapes when you build a spaceship will look fake. I have to point out that the only real spaceship we currently have (the ISS) has exactly that in abundance.

The real ISS.. a wonderful mess of shapes. Image from NASA

The author’s central thesis was that even in the far future designers will each have their own style and so spaceships must look like a coherent whole, rather than a mishmash of styles. However, he forgot the reality of kitbashing which is that the kitbashing builder is the designer. You are the designer so whatever you decide for your spaceship is by definition the right thing to do. The moral of the story is to ignore anyone who tells you the ‘right’ way to do anything when it comes to designing a spaceship. Build a spaceship how you want to build it.

Selling the Scale

Giving a sense of scale is a big part of making your ship more believable and that is achieved with positioning of parts. Remember that the real world is Where your audience Actually live. In real world design we often see symmetry at larger scales and less of it at smaller scales. On a battleship the overall view of one side is a mirror of the other side, but at a smaller scale you find storage boxes on the port side only or ventilation ports that are only on the starboard. Using this concept of large scale symmetry combines with small scale asymmetric detail can really help sell the scale of your space craft.

Painting your spaceship

Having just said ‘there is no right way’, when it comes to painting there are some well tried and tested techniques that consistently produce good results. You don’t have to paint with an expensive airbrush if you don’t have one. Thin layers of paint applied with good old brushes can be equally effective, it just takes a little longer.

Weathering

If you think your spaceship needs to look a bit roughed up, with oilstains and rust, blame George Lucas. Before 1977 spaceships in fim were all gleaming metal and clean surfaces. Then the grubby weathered look of Star Wars came along with the Millennium Falcon as the iconic rustbucket that managed the Kessel run in 12 parsecs. Since then a bit of weathering is almost mandatory whenever we build a spaceship. I say ‘almost’, because as mentioned earlier you can do whatever the heck you want. However, for those who do like a bit of rust on their spaceships, here is just one way of doing it. This video is actually for model boats, but exactly the same techniques work well on spaceships.

All in all there is so much fun to be had with kitbashing. Imagination can take us anywhere we want to go, including the stars. Go on, build a spaceship for yourself. You wont regret it.

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About the author

Loves to learn new things and make stuff...properly. Born and living in the Thames Valley west of London, England. I have an office job during the day, but evenings and weekends are all about making.