Tuesday, April 14

DVD Review: Calvin Tan’s Guide to Converting and Painting Figures from Model Art...

One of the nicest and most talented guys in our hobby is Calvin Tan. This gent from Singapore travels the world on his scooter painting figures and wowing people at shows with his figure handwork. We had the chance to watch his new instructional DVD of just HOW he makes and paints such great models, and today Calvin Tan’s Guide to Converting and Painting Figures from Model Art is the subject of today's review...

DVD Review: Calvin Tan’s Guide to Converting and Painting Figures
Published by: Model Art 
3 DVD Set 
Available in English.
Total Length: 253 minutes.
Available from this link on the 20th of April for 3,333 Japanese Yen/ $29 USD/ $41 AUD/  £24 GBP/ €26 Euro (plus P&P)
Volume three of Calvin Tan's figure model masterclass series focuses on the remodelling, painting and construction of figure models. A three disk set, this DVD promises to add to the previous volumes with new techniques to be added to your tool kit and an expanded base of knowledge from this very good tutor - all on an easy to follow video format.
This third edition focuses on the conversion and customization of plastic injection moulded figures - the Tamiya figure recently released is adapted and added to with a Hornet head and other parts. Calvin lays out clearly his strategies, techniques and the materials needed to perform a simple conversion of a tank crew to a Panzer Lehr infantryman.
DVD Synopsys:
“This instructional DVD was developed for the beginner armour and diorama modeller in mind; in which I will demonstrate a variety of easy to master techniques employed to attain this final result. Topics include proper paint application techniques, choice of brushes as well as some little tricks and shortcuts I have developed over the years painting figures. Bear in mind that it is not a continuous record of the painting process but a showcase of techniques for any modeller of different skill levels to incorporate into their repertoire of techniques” 
by Calvin Tan

Wait - who the hell is Calvin Tan?
Calvin Tan is a Singapore resident who is a world-renown painter of model miniatures. Through his work on his website, and from commission and boxart work for such companies as Alpine Miniatures, Fer Miniatures and Young Models to name a few, Calvin has become a popular figure on the modelling circuit, multiple gold medal winner at Euro Militaire, but beyond that, he is always glad to talk to modellers at shows and he is known to be one of the more friendly and relaxed characters in the hobby.

Some of Calvin's previous work
So...Three disks - several subjects to be knitted together over 250 minutes of video - we had better take you through it all, and in the words of Calvin himself..."So - without further ado - let's begin!"

Each of the video disks has a chapter selection so you can jump straight into the part you wish to continue/ refresh your knowledge with...
Disk 1
Ch I: "Tools of the Trade" (04:52)
You soon get used to the way this video is shot. Sometimes with the look of Calvin front on to the camera, but mostly, the vision comes from over the shoulder of the modeller looking down on to his green modelling matt.
The first section is a short preliminary chapter of the DVD which Calvin shows the main tools he uses for sculpting and adapting figures. From the basics of hobby knives and spare shaped blades to pin vices, pliers, shaped diamond files, nylon and rubber type brushes/clay shapers, Epoxy putty and types of Tamiya cement that he uses in his figure work for converting figures.
Ch II: "Disassemble and Reconstruct" (36: 34)
Calvin first gives us a rundown on the real thing that holds his figures together - namely the epoxy putty that he moulds together to create the extra space between the joints of the figures that he is reconstructing. The ration of resin to hardener and how he accelerates the drying of the putty is explained.  Calvin then selects the figures that he will be adapting, in this case, the recent Tamiya WWII German tank crew, with the help of some Hornet heads and different weapons to add to them.
Separation of the figures from their original forms is explained. With Calvin showing by the work on the video the correct technique to remove these figures parts from each other.  He shows as he separates the figures he is altering "like cutting away at a tree" in clear vision. 
Test fitting of the parts to be added to the figures are next, with the head safely removed from the resin casting block, Calvin shows how he makes the socket for the head to fit snugly into. Once fitting it to the body Calvin explains how the hips of the soldier seem too narrow in proportion to the rest of the figure. He then talks us through how he uses strips of plastic to fix this and then carves them to suit the contours of the figure, Calvin then explains how to fix any other seams made by the adjustment of the figure's hips. The way this is explained is logical and easy to follow and a nice inclusion in a learning DVD.
With the joints of the figure's torso sealing, Calvin takes us through how he alters, fits, then re-alters the arms on the figure. After showing how to separate the arm at the elbow, the use of soldering wire to create the joins in the separated arms is walked through. The joint now re-attached can be remodelled to a position and with epoxy remodelled to look like the original sculpt. We are left with a figure with a new head, a new arm, wrist and shoulder joint - still roughly being formulated at this part of the DVD.
CH III: "Remodelling" (45: 35)
Using the sculpting sticks with soft rubber edges and the epoxy putty, Calvin shows us how he re-creates the seams and wrinkle of the clothing after he has re-shaped the joints. The gaps are erased and gently needed into with the putty whilst Calvin shows and explains just how he tackles this part of the process.
Work also continues on the elbow and arm joint with putty and clay shaper, soft brush and needle point, then with Tamiya extra thin to make the joints look real again after surgery. We go to the "bakery" next - with  Calvin showing us how to create thin strips of flat epoxy putty to thicken the legs of the figure. He walks us through how he mixes and flattens the putty, cuts the strips to size and feathers this very fine layer into the plastic to create a heavier weight to the trousers of the soldier.
The seam of the fattened trouser leg is shown in a short section from Calvin next up, we see what the finished soldier's lower torso looks like with some thumpin' house/ disko/ elektronica music to round out the chapter.
CH IV: "Hands and Fingers" (29: 58)
Talcum powder, epoxy putty and the glass bottle come out again for the "pasta treatment" to use in the remodelling of the sleeves of the soldier as Calvin illustrates how to thicken that area around the soldier's wrists. Pushing and pulling the clay back to mould seamlessly to the rest of the arm and leaving a much more substantial hollowed out cuff is shown in detail.
Converting a clenched fist to a pointing finger is the next part of this chapter, with Calvin cutting finely into the hand and carving away the digits until he can add two different materials to recreate the thumb and pointing finger to show the man gesturing instead of that clenched fist. 

Disk 2 - 
CH V: "Painting the Head" (101: 30)
In this, the second DVD, we get straight into the painting of the figure that Calvin has made. This is part of the DVD cannot be used as a one-stop purchase towards painting all figures. There was already a lot covered in DVD I & II on painting figures, and this is meant I can see straight away as a complimentary disk to those. Those wanting to know more on painting should look at those first, then this one. 

I could not resist putting a picture of Calvin wearing his optivisor in there...
From a primed figure, Calvin shows us how to pre-tone the face of the figure using a light colour over what looks at first to be green, he then moves on to an orange colour over this green and white - it magically turns into a high and low lighted flesh-like colour! 
Highlighted pink flesh colours now take your focus to the upper sides of the face. I notice that attention was paid to the light on the two different sides of the face and how they differ from each other. This point is where Calvin leaves the face (for now) and we move on to the helmet cover.
Calvin uses the "Wet Palette" method of painting with acrylics, and throughout this DVD he shows us the colours that have been used and general ratios of how he mixes them which is important to anyone wanting to follow his work in their own endeavours...
After an introduction to the brushes that Calvin uses and chat about using flow medium, he shows us how he paints the figure's helmet. The pre-shading in dark colours for shadows and light highlights, almost tracing the helmet before the main colours are applied. Calvin then shows and describes the opacity of the paint that he applies to the helmet. Techniques that were not in the original DVD compliment the earlier disks here which is nice, but also we see those older techniques in use whilst painting this helmet as the tones go on in that hexagonal splinter camouflage pattern one after another.

You see Calvin make mistakes, then show how he fixes them, refreshing and he is always talking us through his thoughts.
CH VI: "Painting the Uniform" (26: 50)
To paint the field grey panzer wrap Calvin first shows us his mixes of acrylic paints, flat base and flow enhancer in his wet palette, then brush choice before he starts to paint his undercoated torso of the figure. He establishes a monochromatic contrast with first shadows, mid-tones, then highlights while he describes the brushstroke length he uses for these shades. 
A thin veil of colour is applied over these base tones, with greens giving this uniform a base coat of grey-green that I think that I could even achieve if I followed the learnings given in here. It certainly gives me confidence! A lot of valuable information in here that does not come in books and indeed some information here is an update from the first two volumes in this very series.
CH VII: "Creating the Groundwork" (44: 18)
The base work of the figure is just as important in the presentation. Calvin shows us the ingredients that he used in this particular figure's creation and which companies (sometimes a construction site or the grocery store) that the products come from. Aligning and positioning the plinth the figure stands on, then the groundwork on the base is all described here by Mr Tan.
Stucco paste, the roots of the groundwork, the importance of using matte varnish, ground litter with oregano, grass matt sections are all used in the base and explained in their application by Calvin, he uses them smartly so they are looking like they are growing out of the ground rather than standing atop them. A fence post is made, woodgrain created,  and the protection is removed from the base before a check of the figure's position is always needed whilst making the base to ensure a homogeneous scene of nature.
Painting the groundwork is needed, and Calvin takes us through the mixes of paints and why he uses those shades, what his vision is as he applies them and the effect of each colour that he adds as he applies them. Certainly really helpful to this modeller, and I was very happy to see an important but often overlooked subject like this included in the DVD release.
"And we are done!" Calvin then shows us a carousel of the figure on its base fully painted and weathered after the conversion - dramatic music, a look at the figure from all angles and lovely photography really top it all off - but wait he says - "there's more..."

Disk EX
Disk EX? EX-Tra? ohh yes - OK - this is an addition to what we have already seen, showing the modeller some advanced techniques to make your own straps & belt buckles, rifle strap, collar insignia & barbed wire to add to your diorama. Really this disk should be the second disk, and the painting and groundwork disk should be number three - but that is a little thing in the shape of the outcome. Just be sure to take this third disk into your calculations when watching theses - it is not just little extras!
Straps & Buckles (102.11)
A long chapter, this section shows the modeller how to model belts, Y-straps and buckles for them to attach with. Starting with his "Y"-shaped combat harness. Calvin shows us the precess from marking out, to carving a recess on the front and rear of the torso, then using a template cut out the straps, apply them to the recessed torso, then bend and gently stretch these strips into straps conforming to the torso.
Rifle Strap (13:46)
The thin stip of 1.2mm plasticard is cut and moulded into shape by Calvin in this useful tutorial. all throughout he describes little tips and tricks to transform plastic into something resembling scale thickness leather or cloth strap.
Collar Insignia (9:57)
Calvin explains the use of Archer fine transfers and his alternative to them to make them more 3D and realistic. Using the putty and flow enhancer, the modeller shows how he brings more depth and reality to this otherwise good but not perfect accessory.
Barbed Wire (9:00)
Using nickel wire and a holding device that he has fashioned himself, Calvin takes us on at first looks like an experiment, but really it is a very simple process of making barbed wire with the help of a rotary drill as he braids the wire. The technique and tools are simple but his description makes this easy to understand here.
And that my friends - is the end of this three-disk set...

The DVD is a bit of an accomplishment from the Publishers and the modeller himself, the scope of the work and the addition of extras on and over the originals is encouraging. There are however some things I would change, there is a constant lower volume track of Calvin talking as he shot the video that was not completely erased before it was dubbed over. I would also have changed the EX disk to just a straight-up second part and then have the painting and groundwork disk as the third disk, but that is semantics really.

The work that is on display, the way that Calvin explains and demonstrates his successes and failures on the ongoing monologue are excellent. The ease at which this modeller could understand the DVD's concepts and retain the knowledge impressed me, and I did not "switch off" at all during the long presentations.

One of the best DVDs and learning tools of its type on the market. Get it if you are at all interested in improving your skills as a modeller.

Adam Norenberg

Thanks to Calvin for arranging this video to be sent to review. You can get the video from a few places - but it is available from this link on the 20th of April for 3,333 Japanese Yen/ USD $29/ AUD $41/  £24 GBP/ €26 Euro (plus P&P)
You can also check out Calvin's excellent website that is a great resource on its own...