This is my first column for Amazing Stories on science fiction and fantasy modeling. I will explore, review, and try to keep up with the latest news in plastic modeling relative to subjects that would be of interest to Amazing Stories readers. Plastic modeling has frequently produced models for those with an interest in the fantastical. Modeling subjects from real space to science fiction and horror have been produced since the early days of plastic modeling in the late 1950s.
Aurora Plastics Corporation introduced in the early 1960s the first such kit with their classic monster model, Frankenstein, and it was so popular they ended up producing them around the clock to meet demand. They quickly added other classic subjects such as Dracula, the Wolfman, the Creature (from the Black Lagoon), and many more . When I was growing up back then almost every buddy of mine built at least a couple of these models while I had a shelf over my bed with at least a dozen or so on it. There were also comic book hero models of Superman, Batman, Robin, and other heroes and villains. With only television and the occasional movie to hold the interest of boys, and some girls, in such subjects plastic modeling was a very popular hobby.
Soon after the release of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Aurora obtained the rights to produce models of the moonbus and the Pan AM space clipper from the movie which began the production of science fiction specific models. AMT obtained rights to the Star Trek series and introduced models of the Enterprise, Klingon D7, and Mr. Spock amongst others. Plastic model companies also produced models from classic TV shows and movies such as the Addams Family house, the Munsters living room, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Seaview, Lost in Space Chariot, and other characters and vehicles. These models allowed hobbyists to actually build and paint unique subjects that were not available elsewhere and that appealed to fans of this genre.
As the years passed and other entertainment options became available to young people, particularly to boys who dominated the hobby, modeling fell out of favor. Video games, computers, video on demand media, and such provided instant entertainment and plastic modeling lost its appeal. When you could engage in entertainment instantly without having to spend time and effort on building and painting there was little incentive to participate in the hobby for most young people. There were still modelers, mainly those who had now aged somewhat, but it seemed to fall out of favor for the younger generations. Because of the diminished interest many of the companies that produced these genre models went out of business or struggled to survive. New fantastical modeling subjects were rarely seen due to the lack of interest and cost of production. There began a period when modeling of fantastical subjects was done only by a few individuals on their own and the companies reacted by producing minimal products and introducing almost nothing new in the genre.
About 15 or so years ago a closet industry began in parallel with mainstream plastic modeling that used injection molded styrene plastic. This was to become known as the garage kit industry because it used liquid resin for casting the models and was typically done by individual in the garages. Once a sculpt was made of the figure or vehicle it was broken down as much as necessary to make rubber molds of the parts. Then resin was poured into the molds and allowed to harden before being removed. While it was labor intensive it did allow for individuals to actually make very good and highly detailed models. However mass production was fundamentally out of the question as there was significant hands on labor required. But the upfront costs were minimal compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars it cost to prepare a mold and purchase the injection equipment to produce a styrene model. Finally, the details on these resin models was as good or usually better than a styrene kit. This allowed for unique subjects that would not appeal to enough hobbyists to make financial sense for a big company to produce. Many characters and vehicles from popular science fiction and horror movies and TV shows have been produced in resin; a web search will reveal numerous kits to those interested.
Starting in the 1990s a sort of renaissance began in the SF/horror genre modeling community induced by the garage kit companies. As this occurred many older people, like myself, who had modeled in their youth discovered that there was a resurgence of interest as well as new and exciting products available. Once this was noted by the larger players in the industry they also returned to producing genre products with many being “repops” of older plastic kits including all the original Aurora monsters as well as many of the other 1960s and 1970s kits. I myself have collected these repops as I fondly remember owning them in my youth or wishing I had been able to have them back in those days. One company producing repops was Polar Lights, which started up around 1994, with the intent of reproducing the original Aurora plastic model kits. The name itself was in homage to the original Aurora Plastic Corporation. Besides the original Aurora product line they released new geeky subject models such as the Ghostbusters Ecto-1 and Back to the Future Delorean Time Machine. They were the first company to bring back these subjects as well as to release new genre subjects.
Other people took note of the new popularity of the genre kits and started new companies to produce and market such kits. It should be noted that the founders and owners of these companies were themselves hobbyists rather than just businessmen interested in primarily making money. Because of this they have made available many models that likely would never have been produced for modelers by the big industry companies. Older modelers who either never stopped modeling, (I never completely stopped), or returned to the hobby have been stocking their shelves with a large assortment of these newly available kits. Known as the modelers “stash” most serious modelers have quite a large number of such kits stacked on their shelves. I personally have over 250 kits and it is unlikely I will ever finish them all in my lifetime. While I am extremely happy these kits are available they are being produced faster than I can build them. I average building a bit over two kits a month but my stash keeps growing rather than becoming smaller.
Today there are about a half dozen producers of styrene plastic kits in this genre. I will write individual columns about the primary players in future columns and their names will come up frequently when writing about new products or reviewing previous releases by these companies. For reference the key players that I know of are Moebius Models, AMT/ERTL, Polar Lights, MPC, Revell, Pegasus Models, and Monarch Models. All of these companies have produced numerous products, some repops but many of their products are completely new models from current entertainment franchises. Along with these there are also the numerous resin model producing garage kit companies with unique products that will never be produced by the “big guys.”
Some examples of the unique products from the garage kit companies that I own myself are The Thing from Another Planet, bust of the Bride of Frankenstein, a set of busts of the classic Universal monsters, a 2001 Space Odyssey astronaut at the TMA 1 site, James West from the Wild, Wild West TV show, and others. I also have four 1/6th scale resin models produced by Monsters in Motion that are called Aurora Box Art models. These are resin models sculpted by Jeff Yagher that actually depict the model as it is shown on the the original Aurora monster model boxes. Here are two of these kits I built and painted.
When Aurora introduced these models they had artists paint a depiction of the model for the box art. However the art on the box was significantly different than the model itself. While the model was similar to the monster from the classic movies the box art was far more realistic looking and many modelers were very disenchanted when they opened the box. Monsters in Motion realized this and created a series of resin models that captured the box art itself. Jeff Yagher’s sculpts are excellent and do a great job of reproducing the monster from the box in 3D resin. Here are a couple of my builds of these models.
As the hobby has grown specialty online hobby shops have also started dedicated to modelers interest in the genre. One such shop I frequent is the CultTVman Hobbyshop. It is run by Steve Iverson out of Atlanta and features a huge selection of SF and horror hobby kits and unique accessories. Steve has even branched out into having his own series of specialty items produced and sold by his shop only. These are his Monster scenes and Scifi scenes series of kits and accessories. His hobby shop is the only source of many unique items for the serious genre modeler. There are other online shops as well such as the previously mentioned Monsters in Motion and also Amok Time. The SF and horror modeler and collector can find almost any genre kit and accessory they might be interested online these days. There are also the small garage operations selling kits and accessories such as Tweeter-Head, Blackheart Enterprises, Crow’s Nest Models, and many others.
To support the hobby there are a couple of publications dedicated to it as well. One of these is an excellent magazine called Amazing Figure Modeler. Produced quarterly, it is primarily dedicated to genre figure models along with the occasional vehicle. It covers modeling news, new releases, and of course presents articles on building and painting models.
The other magazine is a heavy paper bound issue titled Sci-fi and Fantasy Modeller. The media is almost of book quality and primarily features articles on SF vehicles but also delves into figures and a bit of the horror modeling genre. It is produced and published in the UK and is available from CultTVman’s hobbyshop. I purchase pretty much every issue and find the articles and news very informative in both these publications.
This about sums up my first column. In future columns I will explore each of these companies in more depth as well as review kits and possibly have a build article or two if the readers so desire. I have greatly enjoyed returning to the hobby as it enhances my enjoyment of science fiction, fantasy, and classic horror as well as allowing me to use and expand my skills in model building and finishing. I have enjoyed building and painting since I was very young and model building has always appealed to that interest. Since I picked up the hobby very seriously again I have also been entering local and some regional contests and shows and my models have won various awards at these events. It is always very self-fulfilling when you have a chance to show your work and to have it honored because of your efforts.