Monday, November 1, 2010

Lighting Up your Starships like the Refit Movie USS Enterprise

I've always said that there are stages in a scale modeller's growth. We usually start out with the basics, that is assembling and painting a styrene plastic model kit straight out of the box. Its simple, convenient and satisfying. Then we evolve. We begin to scratch build and add aftermarket parts to our kits to make them more authentic, realistic and different. The detailing work can take months, and the parts can be in the form of resins, photoetch parts, simple styrene sheets, strips and rods cut to size, etc. Its a learning curve, shared among modellers to better develop our skills. The end result is truly very enriching and rewarding.

Now, going forward toward the final frontier ... lighting up your kit. Not everyone can do this since not everyone is an electrician. In fact, by my estimate, only about 10% of scale modellers I know dare venture into lighting. The fear of messing around with wires, LEDs, circuit boards, soldering ... its just not everyone's cup of tea.

But imagine if you did take the effort. Your kit could look something like these:

Its always different whenever someone showcase their kits with blinking lights. They always get the viewers and praise. I myself decided to foray into lighting my own kits but due to my current projects, I've yet to start on my own Enterprise build. And I have to admit, I still feel somewhat intimidated by it. But I always tell myself if i don't try, I'll never know.

My first lighting project .. or should I say "planned project", involves the ERTL/AMT !/537 scale USS Enterprise. She's going to be a lot of work since I have to putty off all those panel lines first. But here's a useful guide I found regarding lighting the Movie era Refit USS Enterprise 1701 or 1701 A. Please note that some will build according to different movie lighting set ups (making them accurate toward a certain movie like Star Trek The Motion Picture, or Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan, etc), but if you're like me, getting those darn lights to work is already good enough.

You don't need to go hunting for all the LEDs, fiber optics and wirings. They are already there in the market for your lighting needs, be it your spaceships and space fighters. And you don't have to search for them - I'll highlight some of them here.

Of course the set ups are expensive if compared to doing it yourself (DIY) but trust me, if you are anything like me, a noob when it comes to electric circuits, you don't want to mess up your kit with amateur work. The wiring alone is going to be a headache, and getting the correct voltage ... well, you either get it right, or you end up burning out all those LEDs. And its worse when that happens after the lights are all set up inside a glued and assembled kit.

As far as I know, there are 4 sources you can get your lighting sets from (actually there's more but I haven't researched them yet)

Here's a fan who provides a lighting set up that is simple to assemble with his "plug and play" format. He even provides a separate DIY set if you're looking for a cheaper source, and what differentiates Trekmodeller from the rest is that he also provides the display base that comes with the lighting switch. His sets however is not cheap, but it is comprehensive. Trekmodeller also do commission work for those ERTL/AMT and he builds them for you with lights (and painted of course). Specializes in Star Trek lightings

 Samples of his work

Madman Lighting

John Cook owns Madman Lighting, and I have to admit if you are looking to customize your lighting set up, this is the man you want to talk to. I've actually ordered from John and I can vouch for his service and dependability.

John uses an old technology called wire wrapping for his lighting sets. Its a simple process whereby you'll need a wire wrap device to connect your wirings. I actually found such a device through a friend, and was playing around with it while waiting for my lighting sets to arrive. I was rather surprised at how easy it was to use.

John uses lots of creative methods to achieve various lighting options, from all those blinking strobe lights to the Photon Torpedo effects. John has produced quite a number of varied products, from Starship lighting to space fighter lighting.

Sample of John's work

Madman Lighting's products are also available at Starship Modeller Store or you can write him HERE


Here's another professional set up responsible for a lot of successful award winning builds. Vodoofx has been in the market for a long time but you will need to have some electrical experience if you wish to use their products (meaning soldering and all that). The sets require a bit of work but the end result is amazing if not spectacular.

They are the first to come out with the awesome Mark II Viper exhaust effect and they also have lighting kits for many other model kits, including the photon torpedo effect. Some samples of their products:

VoodooFX products are also available at CultTVMan Hobbystore

Oh wait, I mentioned 4 sources. So who is the 4th source? 

The last source is actually non other than a good friend of mine who is a wizard with electronics. He's more popularly known as Mr. Engineer. Right now he's busy lighting up all those Replica Suits' for Cosplay events, and he is helping me to light up my Moebius Mark II Viper ... one day ..... when he's free. Poor guy is running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Its really a curse being so multi talented.

Anyway, I've seen his set up ... very nice, unique ... and I have never seen LEDs that small. I can't wait to show you guys but the set still needs a little tweaking before she's ready. And I will highlight it once its ready and fitted into my kit - promise.

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