1:144 "Sockmonkey" Gundam Sandrock
Like many American modelers, Gundam Wing was my introduction to Gundam, and Gundam modeling. Gundam Wing kits were commonly available in two varieties: the 1:100 scale "High Grade" versions which were generally pretty good, and the 1:144 scale cheap kits. Some of those cheap kits were actually pretty good, but two of the show's main Gundams, the Sandrock and Heavyarms, were generally neglected in the kit line. No High Grade versions were made available, and the kits that were available were pretty bad, even for cheap kits. As a result the 1:144 Wing kit line, and especially the Sandrock and Heavyarms kits, earned the nickname "Sockmonkey" among modelers on the anime modeling newsgroup: kits infamous for their poor quality and gawky looks.
A few years later I happened to find a really good deal on these kits, and so on a whim I bought one. Then for a couple more years it sat around, mostly untouched.
Now there's a Gundam Wing group build going on, and I figured that this would be a fun kit to enter. I always thought it'd be fun to take on the challenge of making the old Sockmonkey look good, and more accurate to the design in the show at the same time. After studying the problem I came to the conclusion that the kit wasn't really "ugly to the bone" as I might have earlier assumed: many of its troubles were a simple matter of soft detail combined with just a few bad choices of proportions. The premise of this project, therefore, is that it should be possible to fix the kit without an overwhelming level of effort. It should simply be a matter of identifying and resolving the most significant problem areas.
The worst problem areas of the kit are the head and the lower legs. The head is a bit misshapen (too much upper cranium) and has detail issues (the head's rather ornate, but they didn't pack in the detail densely enough, so the head turns out a bit oversized). The lower legs look stubby, largely because of the way the lower leg bridges to the ankle armor while providing clearance for the ankle to move.
I've begun by attacking the head parts, refining details of the face and recessing it into the "helmet" a bit, and shrinking the upper part of the head. The next major challenge will be the lower legs: they will likely need some substantial alteration/reconstruction, though I haven't figured out my exact plan yet. After that, there's details to deal with: at the very least the kit needs an all-new V-fin and some decent hands. I'll likely also replace the elbow joints and improve a few details like the vulcan cannons, missiles, and sharpen up the pointy bits...
I cut the head apart - took the whole beard off the face and replaced it with Kotobukiya parts and Aves, cut the top of the helmet off and made it narrower and shorter (vertically). This all took a couple hours but I feel like it's already made a big difference in the appearance of the model.
Tonight I made the left lower leg narrower by 2mm (but made the knee guard .5mm wider), trimmed down the left shoulder armor, and reduced the length of the fringe at the base of the helmet by about 1mm. The shoulder armor change was something I decided on a while back: after looking at the lineart and the B-Club Sandrock I decided that the shoulder armors on the sockmonkey were too large and also not contoured quite right. Even after the reduction, the shoulder is quite large, but now it has a bit of a more sleek look to it. The lower leg change looks promising but I think the knee guard area still needs work. I'm very happy with how the head's shaping up, I think particularly once I whip up a V-fin for it it'll look really nice.
At this point I don't have a good idea of how far this project is going to go in terms of refinement. Certainly there's lots that could be done - any given part of the kit seems to benefit greatly from a little care and attention - but there's other projects lined up once this one's done, so I'm trying to resist the urge to go too far with it.
Didn't break a lot of new ground today: I cut the right shoulder to match the left (still needs some work of course) I also refined the beard, hollowed out the vulcan cannon area, and added the plates to either side of the face.
I had wanted to rejoint the kit's elbow, mainly to improve the looks of the elbow joint. Rejointing the elbow is easy enough with parts like Wave T-Shaft, but since the new joint doesn't swivel as well as bend I had to add the swiveling function back onto the arm. This time around I decided to do this by replacing the shoulder joint with a Yellow Submarine "Ball-shaped joint" - a 10mm spherical hinge. This also means the shoulder peg will have to be replaced with some kind of socket. The joint could just barely fit into the modified shoulder armor - I don't know exactly how much range of motion the arm will have but I think it'll be pretty good.
The arm work was mostly improvised. It was more experimentation than planning, and as a result I actually wrecked the right upper arm during the first attempt at this modification. Adding the joints wasn't a problem, but as part of the process I decided to make the upper arm slimmer: that temporarily turned the upper arm into a very fragile assembly. The part was to be reinforced on the inside with epoxy putty, but when the putty cured I discovered that the part was crooked - so at that point I gave up on it and started over with the other arm. To resolve the issue I'm going to recast the modified left upper arm to replace the wrecked part.
The situation with the knee vents on the lower legs is a bit complicated. The kit doesn't have the knee vents molded in (and there is absolutely no excuse for that! No draft angle issue or anything...) but additionally, the area where the vent is supposed to be should be rectangular, but because of the shape of the lower leg it's actually not. The "calf" pods on the lower legs actually extend forward past the front edge of the shin. Rather than reducing the calf pods or separating the shin from the calf and reattaching them, I decided to just bulk up the shin a little, just enough to provide the knee armor a relatively flat surface to sit on. I was worried that adding that bulk to the front of the lower legs would make the shins appear too thick: I think that's still a possibility but so far it seems OK.