By Brian Thewlis - images & text © 2011
There are many iconic images in the movies around science fiction, like the opening scene from Star Wars IV, with the Star Destroyer filling the screen and the Space Ark taking off in When Worlds Collide. There is also the Discovery from Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece 2001 : A Space Odyssey, another screen filler but a star in its own right.
The original movie had a number of full length filming models, of varying size and larger models of only the Command Module, plus full size sets of course.
^ Passage loom - LEDs soldered to brass framework
^ Pod, cored and ready for lighting
Image: Side view
^ Jig for the spine modules
Image: Module layout
There has been much conjecture over the years as to size of the Discovery, especially the diameter of the Command Module, but suffice to say that Ian Walsh of Stargazer Models has put plenty of research into this subject and then turned this research into a cracker of a model that he has mastered up for production.
To the kit! I was fortunate enough to get a pre-production copy direct from Stargazer, which is what I have built here. The actual production kit from Starship Modeler is fully pressure cast in an excellent grey resin. The model is scaled to 1/144 and is a gem, with some 160 nicely moulded resin parts that will build into a model that is 760mm long! It's fully detailed with the complete complement of work pods, an astronaut figure and fully researched and detailed fuel and storage modules along the length of this large model. The the original photoetch for the module masters was detailed by Ian and provided by Eliot R Brown..
There was minimal clean up required but some parts needed to be removed from carrier sheets of resin. These were generally the smaller parts and care needed to be taken to remove only the part and not too much else. I highly recommend that some tracking system for the parts is used as there are a lot of them. Also, ensure that dry fitting is carried out to familiarize yourself with the way parts go together. A deal of pre planning is required as well as you must purchase a 1/8th inch diameter, 24 inch long steel rod to assemble the model around. I found that the K&S 3mm steel rod available from most hobby stores here in Australia is near as dammit.
As the rod is a key element to the model, I first looked to the best way to fit the various modules over it. Again the crew on Starship Modeler's discussion forums have a special thread on this model that helped a lot. The road I took was to use plastic tube sleeves in both the command module and reactor module.
First up I tackled the Reactor module, it is a simple component to put together. I started by drilling out a guide hole to fit the plastic sleeve through, end to end, then added on the connector parts, also drilled through and glued together after threading onto the plastic sleeve. I did allow excess tube stock which would be trimmed off later. I also added longer, thicker pins from the base of the engine bells, but did not fix them yet, just pre-drilled the holes for the outer bells, but using the tube for the spine for the central engine bell.
Next, I tackled the Command Module (CM). I made an early decision here during the planning stage to have one of the Pods being extended out and to add lighting into the CM and the Pod. Adding lighting to models is not that daunting an affair and there is plenty of info around the Web on how to do it. More on the lighting later.
I looked at the Pod Bay, a key element to the whole 2001 movie and it is elegently handled by this kit. The pod bay doors are separate items so you can display these however you like. I started the lighting process by drilling some holes in the bay floor to accept some IT type cannon pins, which are the pins used in computer cables, male and female. This would allow me to remove and replace the pod as needed. If you do this, you just need to ensure you document your polarity. The floor piece was then finished; you can use the included decal floor, or paint on the markings as I chose to do. Painting did not work as well as I would have liked so perhaps the decal may have been smarter. The was suspended on the pins, which were later painted over.
Now to the lighting. Without going into too much detail here, lets just look at the basics. You can buy LEDs very cheaply now and some of them run nicely at 3 volts. Three volts is two AA/AAA batteries hooked up and places like Jaycar sell nice little battery boxes. So given that you use all 3V LEDs you can connect them up quite simply in parallel, that is all the positives and all the negative poles on the same wire and it will work. OK they won't be as bright because of the current you are drawing, but it is simple. I ended up using a total of 7 water clear bright LEDs - which give off plenty of light - of both 3mm and 5mm sizes in my circuit, which is about the maximum on a simple circuit like this. It may not be the most effective way to do it ... but it does work. I actually did go a step further and used 6V input and used resistors to drop the voltage and a more complex circuit, but that is a whole different story, even so all testing was done using the 3V battery pack.
To facilitate the LED actually lighting the CM up some modification work had to be undertaken. First, I cut out the overhead lights in the bay. Then I madea simple wiring loom for the cockpit and accessway, which also was used for the bay ceiling lights. This was just soldered brass rod onto the appropriate legs of the LED's with some lead wires for the cockpit and ceiling lighting. bThe picture at left gives a good view on how paralleling works for LEDs.
The main effort went into getting an LED into the one of the Pods. I started by carefully drilling out the pod until it was deep enough to house the LED. Then I drilled and trimmed out the view port. It is important at this stage to paint the interior of the pod black to trap the light as much as possible. The LED was then glued into the pod with ultra clear Araldite, filling up the view port flush. Once cured, the port was masked off for further painting. The legs of the LED were then soldered to the male cannon pins, after cutting out a channel for them in the pod docking floor part. This should then all line up for insertion into the female cannon pins already in the Pod Bay floor, providing you have done your measurements and test fits it should all work. Well almost ... hence the reminder about test fitting, my effort was out a bit and the trusty pointy nose pliers had to do some bending to fit. Don't forget to verify the polarity with a test of the lights. Generally I tend to have a battery pack with alligator pins handy to test after each activity ... remember 3 volts only!
Ok, so now that I had all the lights in it was time for a test. I connected all the wiring to the loom and powered up .... and she works! Ugly but it worked. Once the CM is together this will all be hidden. To achieve a neat solution to connect up the power pack I went with two more female cannon connectors set into the display stand-side of the CM which then allows the powerpack to be discreetly setup behind the display stand.
It was time to bite the bullet and put it all together. I used the figure in the kit to stand beside the control console in the Pod Bay to give scale and a focal point for anybody looking in. I also decided to have two doors open, one for the emerging pod and one with the Pod still in station, but giving adequate viewing area to see the lighting I just sweated over installing.
Now it was time to glue together the two CM halves. My example of the upper part was a bit out of round (what did I say about test fitting!) so a bit of heat was applied via a hair dryer to gently manipulate the top to fit. Then I set about gluing the cockpit and corridor into the top half, Pod Bay into the bottom half, again. test fitting before committing to gluing the two halves together. I used Araldite, as I much prefer the strength of an epoxy for this type of situation. Another great suggestion is to use pinning to hold the halves together, which would then give you the opportunity to remove the top half it needed to show of detail or fix problems with lights perhaps. I finished off the CM by adding the connector modules to the rear, ensuring that they were sanded flat and were predrilled to accept the tube for the steel rod spine.
Now it was t to look at the storage and fuel pods. There are heaps of them and they are different sizes. Also there is a distinct order and arrangement for which they should go on. Each module goes together on a trio of triangle shaped mounts which in turn slide over the steel rod. It is important that these are pre-drilled to the same diameter as the steel rod to ensure a snug fit. I constructed a jig to get the lengths the same on each module; again this took a bit of research and testing. The jig I used was steel or brass rod with plastic tube spacers to set the distance between the mounts. I then carefully followed the instructions as to which pod type goes on each module set, gluing each with superglue. In hindsight, I should have gone with the "drill and pin" method as I have had some issue with pods getting knocked off during transportation and personal clumsiness. After the fuel cells weren completed then there are 12 sets of joiners have to be constructed, again using the steel spine to ensure a good fit.
The pod layout defines which part goes on which module for each location. Remember this is a 3-sided layout so you must be careful with the construction of this part. Of course the Sensor pod is different and addressed in the instructions, including the addition of extra dishes. The actual sensor array can be (and is best) left off until painting is completed.
So what now... I had a CM, 11 sets of fuel cell modules, the reactor module and a steel rod. Well, it is like threading beads I suppose. I started by gluing on the engine bells to the reactor module, then that in turn to the steel spine, again with araldite. While the araldite was still wet, I plonked on the appropriate connector modules. I allow this to set before proceeding to thread on the fuel cells. At this stage I did not glue on any of the fuel cells as I wanted to use the spine as a handle for painting, plus I planned not to have the Command Module permanently fixed to enable removal when needed. Whilst the order of the fuel cell modules is not that important at the moment, it is important during painting stage that you keep tabs on which is which to return them in the correct order if you do remove them. Of course, lastly the Command Module element was added to complete the model.
Conjecture rages about the colour of the Discovery as well. Clearly it is a very light colour in the movie, some pundits going the white line, but others claim that as a movie prop it is grey or even light blue! I went down the light grey/white path as to my eye that is the closest match to what you see on the screen and what I wished to represent. First up a blast with a super cheap auto spray can primer. This identified any air bubbles. There were a few, but not really that many and easily fixed with a drop of white glue or filler for larger bubbles. After that a very light grey was oversprayed, after the usual masking of area that needed it such as CM viewscreen and open pod bays. The CM, as a focal point to the entire model, was then given additional treatment with some panel shading, using various grey shades and some post shading oversprays of off-white.
For the rest of the model behind the CM, after the light grey I picked out some panels with some darker shades of grey, particularly on the Reactor module area. I then liberally coated the model with a wash of very thin brown oil paint. This really makes the excellent detail pop on the modules and the Reactor, but be very careful of pooling which would produce tide marks as this is a large model at a small scale, you should be extra vigilant here. Once the wash was completely dry I drybrush everything with white oil paint. I used oils here because you have much great control, again because it is a large model. Once the oils were completely dry it was ready for final assembly.
What do you do with a model that is nearly 800mm long? Clearly this is a model that will need support at both ends as the single 3mm rod will bow. Trials by others with tube, stainless steel, whatever showed the heavy extremities cause some amound of bowing if there's no support.
Display is up to the modellers, but I chose to set my Discovery in context. I went about constructing a display unit that “contained” the model. I cut some MDF to length and width in the classic L shape. Then I cut some concave formers, which then had laminex attached to it to give a surrounding effect. Finally the supports of brass tube were fixed in place and matching inserts were fixed into the model. When the model is attached to the base, the inserts are hidden behing the model and can only be seen directly above. This also allowed the power pins to be ducted adjacent to the supports. Once all this was in then the base was painted matte black and starfield was added by getting some cheap white paint and blowing it through a straw from a short distance back.. messy, but it works a treat. Then a section of a printout of Jupiter was glued on to set the scene.
So is the Stargazer Discovery, a simple model ? Well not really, as with most garage kit models it requires a bit of work, thought and planning to get it together.
Satisfying? Definitely, this is a fantastic kit for any fan of 2001 or even just Sci Fiction ships. It is a cracker of the model and a real focal point in any collection.
So would I do it again? Probably, but equally you might get the answer.... I am sorry Dave, I can't do that...
This page copyright © 2011 Starship Modeler. First posted on 17 February 2011.