Refurbishing The Unicorn
In mid-January I called up Steve at Bluefin and had him send over the Unicorn (again) for refurbishment. We last left the Unicorn in a case of Star Wars-like “used future” weathering in an attempt to make lemonade once the clearcoat on the Unicorn turned VERY yellow from sun exposure, and it suffered a fair amount of dings and staining in being shipped cross country. I actually thought that the weathered Unicorn looked pretty cool. Still, Bandai Visual wanted it pretty and white again (because that’s how it appears in the anime). We asked if we could turn it into the Banshee and they said no. Actually, after seeing the Banshee’s in the OVA I was kind of glad. The OVA version just kills the Banshee for me.
With help from Gamerabaenre, Mbizzle, Shinsetsu, and Angel we managed to sand all the decals and a good amount of the clearcoat off. We then primed it allover with Rustoleum auto primer. Superbowl Sunday Shinsetstu and I sanded the primer down. It had come out pretty damn rough, it’s a thick paint and we learned you have to heat and shake the can REALLY well if you don’t want it to come out in splatters. A couple days later I painted everything that would be the red psycho frame silver. We repainted the red as a candy red clearcoat over the silver spraypaint during the Februaruy build gathering. We came really close to running out of red paint, and Clem had to go get his personal stash of Finisher’s clear red, which is a really nice deep red and covered much better than the Mr. Color clear red had.
I spent a few evenings that week getting the head caught up with the body (it arrived separately, a few weeks later than the body… par for the course actually) and tried to shore up some structural weaknesses (the gun wasn’t far from falling out of the hand and the shield and a few other parts have a good wobble to them) with screws, wood, and a generous amount of epoxy glue. I also did some touch-ups to the red.
The next weekend, February 25th dhcloud joined in and we got the red masked and sprayed the blue parts. Masking all of those recessed red parts of the Unicorn SUUUUCKED.
Thursday March 1st marked our first group weeknight of work as the deadline grew near and we started to realize that the weekends weren’t going to be enough. That night we masked the blue and, learning from how the different shades of dark gray and silver showed through the first three coats of blue (we had to go back to R4L twice and get more blue paint) we decided to re-prime everything dark gray again.
During the week I painted the gray parts gray and also did some sanding and repriming to further smooth out rough spots before priming with Mr. Surfacer. That Sunday me, Clem, Angel and Terry (who had become the regulars on the project) got together and masked off the gray parts and then primed all the remaining white parts with Mr. Surfacer 1200/1000 (a mix of what we had got from R4L and what we had received from Bluefin in some gift boxes) so we’d have a light gray to cover with the white.
Before we could paint the white, there was some work I had to do. There were gashes, holes and screw heads clearly visible from the structural repairs I had done, as well as some circular and semicircular cracks around puttied-over screw heads from the Unicorn’s original construction. In one case the tough resin/fiberglass structure had caused a screw to snap as I had tried to screw it in, and I had to ground off the remaining piece with my dremel tool.
The heavy gashes and dings were first filled with two-part epoxy putty. Once that was sanded down roughly to shape, all the finer blemishes and the edges of the epoxy putty were smeared with Tamiya putty. I first tried household items like caulking and spackling paste, but both were too rough-grit and wouldn’t fill those tiny cracks, so I had to use about a third of a tube of my Tamiya putty. The upside is that the stuff works great and fortunately it’s widely available in the US again. The particular tube I used had been ordered from Japan last year.
Friday the 9th the regulars got together and painted the white and then pulled the masking off the gray and blue. That was a great moment. We could see touch-ups were needed, but for the first time you could stand back and get a sense of how it would look and it looked really good. The white Rustoleum lacquer paint really pops against the deep gray and the bright blue. Unfortunately hindsight would show us that we should have left the masking on and come back another day and put another coat or two of white on. Of course if we had done that, we wouldn’t have had it done in time… It sucks to do something like this with limited resources and time. Both of those bit us in the ass with the decals.
On Saturday I printed 5 sheets of decals. Since I had rendered all of these decals last year for our first attempt at sprucing up the Unicorn, all I had to do with the red ones is print them out. The “white” decals that go on the backpack, gun and feet are tricky because they’re actually blue and gray “negative” images of the decals printed onto white decal paper. Short of sending the designs off to Samuel Decal and having them printed in white on an ALPS printer (at a cost around $20 and a wait of 1 to 2 months we didn’t have) there was no other way to do it. I printed strips of blue and gray on a test piece and then held them up to the model to get the best match. I sprayed all the decals with Testors decal fixative spray and they were ready to go for Sunday.
Sunday the group got together and applied decals. I love decals, if you read my blog that’s obvious and I think they’re really what sets our Unicorn apart from the ones seen in Asia or other parts of the world.
After our last experience with the polyurethane clear coat we had used yellowing badly, we weren’t going to put anything other than Mr. Color UV Cut Gloss Clear on it to keep it from yellowing. Unfortunately we had a problem locating a good supply of UV Cut Gloss in spray cans (if only we knew some guy who could import it by the case directly from Japan… lol). I sprayed some on the blue and gray parts since those colors come out of the can flat. I also hit some of the white parts where there would be prominent decals. The white paint itself was glossy but if you know paint, you only get it good and glossy with a few good coats. We didn’t really have time to put another couple of coats of white (and we would have had to go out and buy another $20 worth of paint to do it) and we didn’t have enough UV Cut gloss to put a couple overall coats and get it good and glossy under the decals. We had some serious trouble with the decals not wanting to stick to the flat/rough parts and even many of the decals that did stick show some bad silvering. It’s pretty disappointing given all the work we put into the Unicorn and how nice it came out in general, but I think it’s understandable since we didn’t have enough gloss spray to use.
As was often the case on any given day, one of our group was feeling burnt out on the project and in their own words, “apathetic”. So on top of all the trouble we had with the decals lifting after everyone went home, there was the further problem of some just plain sloppy work. Decals on the arms and shoulders were crooked and mismatched (red on the left arm, black on the right arm, high on the left shoulder, low on the right shoulder, there on the left arm, missing on the right arm).
I printed some replacement decals that afternoon and sanded/repainted/reglossed some of the roughest spots. I was going to apply replacement decals Monday afternoon but it bothered me so much I literally couldn’t sleep, so about 12:30 am I got up and went out in the garage and started reapplying decals. I finished at 1:45 am. I think this was the third bout of insomnia this bloody Unicorn has triggered. I’m so AMS/OCD. After this episode (and my bitching about it) we fell into a pattern where people would do some work and then they’d have me inspect it for QC. “Is that good enough, Dan? You’re not gonna lose sleep over it?” Yeah, yeah, yeah…
Monday night (the last Monday before WonderCon) the guys came over and we sprayed the last of our gloss coat over the decals and did touch-ups on the paint. On Tuesday we did panel lines and then sprayed a flat coat of UV Cut and finally held our collective breath and peeled the masking off the red. We had unmasked bits of red during touch ups and had seen it peel off (really bad in one place) and so we were super freaked out that we were going to lose a lot of it and have to do a lot of last-minute touch ups.
Our luck held and we only had minor occurrences of the red peeling back here and there on the model, and in all cases the silver had still held, so we just had to respray with the clear red. Ironically, the biggest blemish was in the gold paint on the V-fin. There was a quarter-size piece of paint that had lifted, revealing the original yellow.
Stepping back (I have to remember to do that) the Unicorn looked REALLY good. The deep candy red shining in contrast to the bright flat white looks really good. The gold V-Fin looks just right now.
Wednesday was finally the last day of work. Clem came over early again and we finished up by installing the last thruster (Clem had to repair it when my tiny alligator clip gave under the strain and the thruster dropped and basically shattered). Clem went around touching up the red. And I masked the Unicorn head. Again. I have masked that head around the V-fin FOUR TIMES, twice “negative” so I could paint the head white, and twice “positive’ so I could paint the V-fin gold gain when some of the paint came off. I painted the areas black and then gold (metalics look best over gloss black) and after letting it dry for ten minutes and checking over the red spots on the Unicorn looking for missed spots (so I could sleep OK, haha).
I went back and carefully unmasked the Vfin and then the rest of the head (red parts, eyes, green lenses), put the head on the Unicorn and then… Holy Crap! We were done!
We stood and admired our work a bit and started shooting pictures. We had a good laugh when Angel pulled up at that moment. He did help us clean up, my garage is a disaster area right now. I put together a box with all the leftover paints and decals. That way when if inevitably gets dinged, or gets fingerprints on it, they can fix it. I sure as hell don’t want this thing in my garage again. It was really cool to work on it the first time. Less cool to work on it the second time and mostly uncool to work on it the third time. You just get burnt out on it. I know I almost never go back to work on a model once I’m done with it.
So in the end I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this thing. It showed up at my house without a head and without 80% of the materials I had requested to get it done. I’ve had to negotiate with Bluefin, Robot4Less and Brookhurst Hobbies as well as make trips to Home Depot and Vista Paint to get all the materials we needed for it. In terms of retail price with tax the materials cost was $420 although with the negotiating Clem and I only paid $92 out of our pockets (we’ll be reimbursed, but we’re out for the time being). I’ve felt frustration at having to take on things that I thought should have been Bluefin’s responsibility (including apologizing for them to other people when something didn’t come through) as well as the frustration of any complex project where you’re kind of working out of your comfort zone with different techniques and materials. Not to mention all the times something didn’t quite turn out and I worked between the group gatherings to fix it the best I could.
I thought maybe I had gone tsundere for the Unicorn when we painted the white and pulled off the masking tape and it was looking good but then the decals got screwed up and it was back to hate, at least for the moment (if you don’t know your Japanese plot labels, tsundere is where the guy hates the girl at first but eventually falls for her, more or less). In the end I was enforcing quality control because I had sunk over 40 hours into the thing and had ended up taking responsibility for it. It was my project. Actually, it was our project and I didn’t want it to come out all screwed up after we had all put so much time into it. The final log of labor was 48 hours for me, 28.5 hours for Clem, 26.5 hours for Angel, 12.5 hours for Terry, and 4 hours each for Dave and Manny. Yes, I kept a log. Hey we put in 123.5 man-hours into this thing and it took up 6 weeks of our lives (from before the Superbowl to Saint Patrick’s Day… think about it).