Friday, 13 January 2012

Panel shading experiment with SU-85 - Part 1

As I wanted to try out a painting technique I am unfamiliar with - panel shading - I decided that the Armourfast SU-85 would be the perfect model to try it out on because of the large surfaces on this tank destroyer. Aside from that I love the Soviet tank destroyers, so here's a post series following my construction and painting experiments with this kit as well as some comments about the Armourfast model iteself...

Image source: Wikipedia - Amazingly, despite having had it's front right sprocket blown off this SU-85 just keeps on trucking!

Before I get into describing the technique of panel shading I thought it would be interesting to look at the model which I have chosen to act as my guinea pig for this paint experiment...

Background - The SU-85
In 1943 the Soviet Union with it's legendary T-34 faced a similar quandary to their Western Allies with the Sherman - how to shoe-horn a larger gun into a cramped turret to compete with the newer German tanks (particularly the Panther and the Tiger). The USSR developed two versions of it's 85mm anti-aircraft gun with a view to equipping a re-gunned replacement for the 76mm armed T-34 (one of these was the T-43). However, Stalin decided the T-34 was too badly needed to change over production during 1943 BUT it was quite easy to shove the larger gun into a 'big metal box' which they stuck on the chassis of the T-34. ...OK, so I have simplified the story, but that's sort of how it went!

The fact is that it is far easier and cheaper to produce the fixed turret tank destroyer - which could accommodate a larger gun - than the more complicated turreted equivalent. The SU-85s would provide 'stand off' support to armoured advances and was - until the eventual advent of the T-34/85 - the only Soviet tank capable of taking out the Panther frontally.

The Armourfast SU-85
This is a pretty nice kit, the real SU-85 was a very 'clean' design so it suits the AF simplification of detail very well. Obviously - like AF's other T-34 variants - most smaller details are omitted - like lifting rings, tools, tow cables, etc - but unlike their other T-34s Armourfast has chosen to include the grab rails and lamp.

Now, ironically, despite the fact that the SU-85 is basically a simplified T-34 with a big gun I actually found this Arrmourfast kit a bit trickier to put together than their other T-34 variants which I have just been making! The main 'problem' is the gun mount as there was a bit of head scratching about just how this goes together. The box instructions does give a hint - but I ended up rotating the ball mount several times before I found the ideal fit (hint: the widest bit of the ball mount goes horizontally). Additionally, the gun mounts top shield isn't designed with any means to clip it into place - it has to be glued on top (I'd have preferred the provision of a small post which fitted into a corresponding hole).

The next issue was the engine deck. I just don't like what the Armourfast guys have done with this. Now the T-34 engine deck features five rectangular vents at the back which are - in reality - constructed using mesh. Armourfast have chosen to model this feature with a sort of dappled texture...It just looks crap!

Interestingly, the other quick build manufacturer Plastic Soldier Company make their T-34 engine deck rear vents with a series of horizontal ribs. While this is just as inaccurate as the Armourfast's it is at least better looking - I would prefer this to the lazy stippled effect. By the way - there is a photo-etched upgrade by Hauler for this component which was done for the original HaT T-34 and is available on eBay (enough for two Armourfast T-34s for $7 plus postage).

Left: The Hauler T-34 Tank Photoetch Details. Available on eBay these were made - as you can see - for the original HaT T-34 and as such I'm not sure if these are an item which will be of limited availability (so snap them up now). At this price they are a lot cheaper than the equivalent Eduard T-34 photoetch detailing sets.

Aside from these two moans (and the traditional winge about the tracks!) the AF SU-85 is a very attractive model. It would look great in support of your T-34 squadrons on the war gaming table. I particularly like the 'turret' detail and it's hatches (which can be modeled open) and the gun and it's mount are nice, though I had to drill out the barrel.

NEXT: In the next part of this project - after some judicious filling and sanding - I will be preparing this kit for the 'panel shading' process by under-coating with matt black enamel spray paint.

Additional photos...

Left: This is the T-34 engine deck from the Plastic Soldier Company model. As you can see they have simplified the features a lot, but all the detail is very crisp and well defined. The rear vents are inaccurate, having horizontal ribs but they are very sharp and will look nice after painting and some pin washes.

I would prefer this level of clearly defined detail even if it is slightly inaccurate in quick build models.

The next issue is the Armourfast's gun and how it goes together. Really it's sort of hard to explain and is very much 'suck it and see' but I figured this is the orientation when it's on the sprue...

And here is a close-up of the gun showing how the mantlet fits inside the recess in the hull, again tricky but you eventually it slots in nicely. The top cover just balances on top and has to be glued as there is no positive slot and pin with which to secure it.

It's a attractive looking kit when built but is crying out to have extra detail added, but for the purposes of this experiment it isn't worth it. I will probably see how the painting goes with this practise model and then apply what I learn to the second SU-85 you get in the Armourfast box. That's what attracted me to Armourfast model, as a novice modeller I can get a couple of basic models to play about with for about £7.50.

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