Building Starbug from Red Dwarf............ again

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A couple of years ago I decided to sell off some of my old models because I was not completely happy with them, which is typical of me because if I start to see that any of the details are wrong I reject the model and don't want to see it in my collection anymore. Many times those faults are really quite minor, but they just bug me.


One of those models was my first 'Starbug', a model that was pretty good but had failed to really live up to my expectations, so it went. After a year had passed, and with the new 'Red Dwarf''series 10 approaching, I decided to give it another go and build myself an improved version. This would be exactly the same size as the first one but with improved detailing and benefiting from my improved model making experience .... which really just means that I'm just older and wiser .... or just older!

During the construction of my first Starbug model I had paused briefly to make plaster-of-Paris moulds of the complex multi-sphere main hull, just in case I ever wanted to build a copy. This now came in rather handy, as I was able to create a new centre hull from just two fibreglass castings, with two more hemisphere castings for the front and rear ends. Luckily I also had most of the plastic domes (EMA Products), a lot of spare bits, and various templates collecting dust in the attic. Another plus were castings of the engine fairings, which had taken so much effort to make on the original build. These gave me the basic shape straight away but I still needed to blend them into the hull and 'tweak' the shape slightly, making them a little bit fatter. The two parts were glued to the hull, with polyester car filler creating a smooth join - also three screws had been half embedded into the hull to act as anchor points, which the filler and extra glue could lock onto.

A rubber mould had been made of my original scratchbuilt engine bells so I used that to slush-mould two new ones - which involves adding fibreglass resin to the car filler until it reaches a more liquid state. After adding the activator the mixture is poured into the mould and you then have to rotate the mould for a few minutes, as the filler sets, to get an even thickness around the sides.
Two large pieces of plastic sheeting were cut out to form the rear engine section, which is then detailed with scratchbuilt and kit-bashed parts. For the tubing I ended up using some plastic pens and plastic knitting needles, which turned out to be a rather good and cheap!

Here other detailing is added to the main hull, again using a variety of modified kit parts. The original studio model apparently used parts from some sort of Japanese robot model kit, so a number of the parts are rather strange shapes, especially those on the rear end. As a result I had to make each of those from thick plastic sheets, layered up, cut and then sanded to shape.
Cutting out the various holes in the front involves a fair bit of work. I had to start by finding the exact centre and then drawing a series of guidelines onto the hemisphere. I also drew a circle on a piece of cardboard with a number of vertical and horizontal parallel lines passing through it, the dome was placed over this circle and the radiating lines could be used as a check to keep things symmetrical - you don't want to end up with wonky windows! All the details were drawn onto the surface and checked, then redrawn again, and again, until I was happy with the look of everything.

My original trick of using a photograph of the actors, to fill out my pilots cabin, was again repeated here. Although this time I could upgrade the effect by using my computer to create the final image instead of just cutting up actual photographs like I did back in the 1990s.
The front end also got some of the new 'tweaks' that I wanted to see, the biggest being that the main windows are recessed and not fitted flush like my original build. Centre picture shows the windows being glued into position, here I stick protruding masking tapes to the plastic to create handles that I can hold as I manoeuvred the piece into place.
Other minor upgrades; The parts added under the side windows and above the centre of the main windows were just plain shapes made from Plasticard on my original build, but as they were kit parts on the studio model they had some surface detail. This time I added that detail using the thinnest Plasticard that I had (10 & 15-thou). Also the small EMA dome in the front recess has some small groves around the edge. The recess itself is an EMA dome on the SFX model so the thick edge of the plastic can be seen; as my version is moulded in I had to add this edge by carefully cutting a ring into the hull surface around the recess. Likewise two small indentations can be seen either side of the originals nose plate caused by screw heads, so I drilled these into mine too.
Above right picture; The brass tubes being glued into the front leg support fairings. By placing the parts back to back, and rotating them, while running a thinner tube through the centre of both I could make sure that the parts were perfectly set straight.

Building the four legs involves a fair bit of work, and as they support the model they have to be pretty strong too so I build them using metal. Brass tubes are embedded into the main hull and then the four legs can be built and attached to them. Last time I used a combination of quite a few different sized Brass tubes to create the lower leg sections, but this time I just had a Brass rod core and clad the outside using plastic tubes. This was easier to do but also looked better as the previous thinner walled Brass hadn't replicated the chunkier look of the studio model. That was one of the things that I hadn't liked about the previous models legs, but there were also a few other things. The 'knee' joints were done using small domes on the first model but that was a mistake, as it should be a central core with elliptical domes on the ends which gives a different look. Also the 'spring' area was too wide on my first model, so a thinner Brass core was used on this model to fix it.
The footpads were again cut from Perspex sheet and the edges ground off using my belt-sander. Then the detail on top was created using pieces of plastic sheeting. Picture above centre: I use EMA Plasticweld glue, good glue but the thin bottle often got knocked over until I made this holder from part of a Saturn V model.

The front legs were fully built and then placed into the support tubes, then I drilled though the sidewall and insert a pin to lock them in place. Then the rear legs were assembled, with the soldering being done with the parts in situ to get everything level. Once the Brass core was fixed the outer plastic detail could be added. Below: The big rear antenna was assembled from Brass offcuts - my reference here was rather sketchy and so I watched the episodes and freeze-framed shots of it landing but could not really note the detail precisely, so it is more an invention of mine in the style of the original!

The big difference with this model was going to be added lights. I wanted the front 'headlights' to work, plus have some lights in the cabin to illuminate the photograph of the crew. While I was doing this the question about the engine exhaust detail had to be decided, and adding lights here also seemed to be a good idea. The Engine bells were a slight problem because there are two ways of doing it: normally the SFX model had halogen lights fitted to create the glowing exhaust effect, but they look odd when the engines are off. As a result during some scenes the open bell ends were blanked off with just a ring of small holes inside for detail. My first idea was to put small LEDs in this ring of holes but it looked a bit feeble, so I then added a smaller halogen bulb in the centre to make it look better - so I've basically mixed the two designs together.

For this I used a set of cheap indoor Christmas tree lights. These were battery packs with 20 LEDs attached; simple things often used for dressing small tables or office desktops. I just had to cut up the wires and move the bulbs around, with eight going into each engine and four going off to the front cabin. This involved a simple bit of soldering and the big bells gave plenty of room for the multitude of wires - the only thing that did catch me out for a bit was that (unlike normal light bulbs) LED's apparently have to be wired in one direction only, or they don't work.
The halogens were 12-volt types that could be run using a small 9-volt battery - I only switch them on occasionally for photographs - and I rubbed them over with sandpaper to frost the glass and stop them looking too much like bulbs.
The headlights are just standard small 1.5-volt bulbs, in holders that have had the plastic part stripped off to save space.
This gives me three separate electrical circuits that feed to battery packs in the rear sphere, and are controlled by switches incorporated into the rear engine detail - because of all the kit-bashing back there they don't stand out too much.

The model was again painted using automotive spray cans from 'Halfords', I seem to like their paint more than some others at the present time - the colour being Ford Signal Green, with Vauxhall Mistral Grey for the engine section. Weathering started by airbrushing black enamel paint onto the model, often over masking tapes to create the panels, and also the pattern effect on the rear fairings. This was rubbed off with wire wool to tone down the initial application, then further layers were added until I was happy with the effect. Further weathering was then applied by rubbing black powder paint onto the models surface; again I could keep playing around with this until I was satisfied.
During this time the markings were added using some old stock Letraset rubdown lettering - thin tapes were run over the surface as a guide to make sure that I was getting them all level. Other coloured lines were Letraset Letraline tapes - I only buy the thicker tapes and then cut them down to the width that I want, otherwise you end up having to buy lots of different sized tapes.
Actually the original Starbugs varied here, as the first model started with rather thin coloured tapes that then got wider as the different series passed - so you have a choice when applying them.

Above: the mess of electrical wires for the various bulbs, the bits of tape are numbered to identify which wire belongs to which circuit. Taking a leaf from the original build the engine bells are not fixed in place but simply inserted into the locating holes, which allows you to adjust them.

Unfortunately after displaying the model at Smallspace 2012 with the original model (see below) I realised that the rear legs needed to be further out by a few millimetres - yes I know that it doesn't sound like much but it was noticeable! This meant that I had to break apart my securely fixed model parts and adjust them, which caused a bit of a mess (above right). My mistake was the assumption that the leg comes out of the models hull inline with the domed parts, but it actually comes out at a slight upwards angle. I could modify my model to match but my big concern was that I would have to change the angle at the 'knee' joint to keep the lower legs perfectly vertical. This would have been major surgery, but then luckily I noticed that the rear legs do in fact flare outwards slightly on the original model (possibly due to weight), so this all worked out for the good in the end. Oddly this moving things from perfectly straight, or vertical, makes the model look better in my opinion. It makes it look more real and less artificial.

Below left: My replica with the bigger SFX version, I realised that much more weathering was required at this stage. One difference was that recent additions to Starbug have included additional thin black lines around the windows, I'm not that fond of this so mine has none.
Below right: Red Dwarf stars Danny John-Jules and Chris Barrie pose for photographs with my replica Bug at Brit Sci-Fi 2012.

The model was ready in time for several display events in 2012, however it wasn't completely finished at that point. The model still needed more weathering to get that 'bashed-about' look that I wanted. I achieved this by blasting the model with fireworks, the best being a Catherine Wheel!
This was all done outside using safety goggles, protective gloves and fireworks attached to a long bar so that I could hold them at a distance as I played them over the models surface. Afterwards I took the smelly model inside to remove some of the mess and make sure that I hadn't melted anything! I liked the result this time, but I'm not sure that this is a technique that I will be using again - it's a bit risky!

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Model, article and all photographs by David Sisson 2013