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Scott's Modeling Nightmares

As my debut column I felt that a vintage kit (or kits) was in order. Over the years I have assembled many kits and have had major success in painting and detailing. One of my proudest achievements has been to capture the look of rocks and gravel with my brush on the molded stones. The steps I will show you are not hard and use limited skills to achieve a professional finish. I use no airbrush or expensive precision tools. All these steps can be shown to your children and save your hard-earned cash. During the assembly of these kits, I used only two brushes to paint these kits. I would advise you to supervise younger modelers and ensure they don't get too carried away with the paints and glues. Modeling teaches a youngster many things: eye-hand coordination, the blending of colors and how to follow written instruction. The most notable factors are patience and stress relief. I have incorporated my modeling experience in many facets of life, from working in a machineshop running precision equipment, to repairing weapons systems in the military. I attribute all my assembly skills to modeling. It truly is an art.

During the early 1970's, Aurora ventured into the themed kits. With their success of the monster and superhero lines, they went to a more "kid friendly" snap-together approach. One of these ventures was the "Prehistoric Scenes" line. This extensive collection had a unique charm. One of the major points was the ease of assembly and the ability to snap the selected bases together and complete a dinosaur diorama scene. The kits were mainly molded in orange plastic, which coaxed the builder into painting the kit to achieve a more realistic effect.

Here are the instruction sheets for the Cave bear and the Cave kits. As you can see, there is a stark contrast in the two examples. The Cave Bear showing a completed painted kit, where-as the Cave having a more comic book appearance.

When I received these kits to assemble for a fellow collector, I first had to clean and inventory the parts. These kits were purchased from an on-line auction and were picked up for a very affordable price. Cleaning was nothing more than washing the parts in warm dishwater. This is done to remove dust from the 30 years of storage and also to remove any remnants of mold release. The first step when assembling a model should always be washing the pieces and letting them air dry prior to painting and assembly.


Photo on left shows the parts of the Cave Bear. As you can see, this kit had a more youthful audience in mind. As you can see, not a lot of parts there, just the base and a part of a stone wall. The one thing that caught my eye was the model was molded in black. This was the first prehistoric kit I ever saw molded in that color.

Here is a shot of the base after I base-coated it with flat black spray paint. Even though this kit was already black, I base-coated with black paint. With all kits I paint, I base coat with black paint so that the painting and blending will be uniform. In some cases, I will start to add my highlights while the base coat is still tacky.

Here is the same base with the back wall after a light wash of flat white was applied. As you can see, there is not a lot of white there. It only takes a little to draw out the details of the plastic. Also in the background I left the brush there to show you that you don't need any extravagant modeling brushes for this. That brush was purchased at a local chain store in a pack of six brushes for under $5. When applying the wash, I would simply shake the paint well, remove the lid and touch the brush onto the underside of the lid. Don't dip your brush in the paint bottle! (Not once during painting will I dip the brush into the actual bottle of paint. This cuts down on the amount of paint used and also keeps me from getting paint runs on the rim of the bottle resulting in a bottle that vice-grips can't open.) Once the paint is on the brush, I applied a very light sweeping motion across the existing grains of the base and wall. In some areas I went with a circular motion as well, but only to bring out more details in areas like the rock circle.

Here is a look at the base after I applied the greens and browns to add contrast to the floor. I did a little research and found that sometimes moss and leaves would be used in cave floors to insulate creatures from the elements. I decided to add some greens to bring out both details and colors to these bases. Again, I applied the same painting technique. When attempting to bring out the depth, I always go with darker colors first so that the lighter colors will pop out at you when you're done.

Here is the completed kit. As you can see, the nameplate says it all. Also gives a vague background of the beast. The bear was painted in the same fashion as the base, the flat black base coat with a wash of a dark brown instead of white. I left him alone after that. The detail of the molded fur did all the work for me. As you can also see, I filled all the mold seams with "Squadron Green Putty". I have used several putties in the past, but have had the best success with the Green Putty. It is workable and sandable in less than 30 minutes. A fine brush was used to bring out the teeth and tongue of the bear. Upon completion, I sprayed a coat of "Dull Coat" matte spray over the entire kit. This gives the assembled piece a more uniform sheen and aids in a professional appearance.

Here is the unassembled Cave. As you can see, this is a very busy kit. Lots of parts and playthings to send your imagination into overload. Again, after the warm soapy bath, I inventoried the parts and started to work. This kit was going to be more of a challenge than the bear for many reasons. The size and the seams. Filling the mold seams on a figure such as the bear was a snap. A fine bead of putty, lightly sanded and scribed hair patterns and you can hardly see them. This was totally different. The base alone had 5 pieces the size of the bear's stand!

Here is the seam on a portion of the base. The glossy area is glue I used to tack the parts together. I realize it looks sloppy, but after the putty, they will not be seen.

Here is the same seam after I applied the putty. As you can see, I followed the original pattern with my scribe to blend in the mold lines. The darker green lines are not low spots; they are areas where the putty had not completely dried.

Here is the base after it received its base coat of flat black. I pre-fit all parts to ensure proper placement of the center column that will support the roof section of the cave itself. This is a critical piece to this kit and I needed to scribe lines to ensure proper placement when the time came.

Here is the key parts glued in place. I discovered that by assembling the center column first and placing it on the base, it would be more helpful in final assembly. Please remember these kits were not designed to be glued together, but to achieve the look I wanted also to aid in shipment, I decided to go the extra step and glue it all. I applied the green putty to hide the rigid lines where the parts met. Notice the thick coating on the column. This piece was actually three pieces. To achieve the look of rock I simply smeared the putty on thick and in an up and down motion with my finger. As the putty started to dry it began to stick to my fingers and pull away from the plastic. This proved to be an easy way to recreate a rock pattern.

Here is the base receiving its dry-brush of white. As you can tell by the brush, there is hardly any paint present on the bristles. Remember, when using a color such as white over black, a little goes a long way. Also shown is the center column where you can see the dry-brush brought out the details of the putty I applied. Also you will notice that the greens were added to the cave floor in a similar fashion to the bear's base. I actually slid the bear next to the cave floor to ensure that the painted areas flowed together in case the owner wanted to display them together.

Here is the top of the cave. As you can see, the stone formations are very defined here. Again, a light wash applied and then my Brown was lightly added. Ensure you don't cover all the white. Stones take on several unique appearances and the white adds character. The browns I used were (Model Masters Brand) field drab and military brown. Once completed, I touched up a few areas with both flat black and my white to highlight.

Here is a closer look at the completed roof as compared to the base.

Here is the assembled cave without the added pieces for the diorama. The stone and base tied together very well.

This picture shows the cave with its full compliment of bones, spears and skins. You will notice the flame in the lower right cooking the meat. I ensured that the colors on that side of the cave had a more yellowish tint to create a fire light effect. Also notice on the shadowing, the center column is darker on the side furthest from the fire. The interior was completely painted in this fashion to recreate the primitive lighting of the cave. Always remember how you view the kit and available lighting won't always compliment your painting skills. Sometime you have to cheat the system and create your own shadows. After I added all the accessories, the cave received the Dull Coat finish same as the bear.

Here is where the two kits come together. As you can see, by painting them with the same style and with the same colors, you can't tell they are actually two separate kits. These kits are not glued together or fastened in any way. That is how the whole series assembles. Aurora was so far ahead of their time.

Here is the rear of the cave. Move over Fred Flintstone! As you can see, the rocks look very realistic and it is hard to believe that this entire model was painted with the same brush. That's right. One brush and only eight total colors! And you thought this was going to be hard!

In closing of this edition, I want to thank Barry Kay for furnishing me with these vintage kits to assemble. I had a lot of fun and I think that with a little practice anyone can achieve the same finish. As you can see by the above picture, my shop is a mess and I have to get it cleaned up before supper.