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Realistic Gunpla Weathering: Using The Real World For Inspiration

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In a previous article, I’d written about how to take into account real world factors with regards to making bullet damage to your Gunpla. Of course, getting real world experience in that can be a bit dangerous.

However, when it comes to paint chipping, mud, streaks, and other weathering subjects, finding real world inspiration is much easier. And safer!

As I pulled into my office’s parking lot this morning, I saw a large forklift sitting in the parking lot. As I looked at the various chips, streaks and stains, I couldn’t help but notice that even from a short distance away, it looked very much like what I try to achieve when weathering Gunpla.

Certainly the scale is very different, yet the principles remain the same. The examples shown on this piece of machinery translate very well into some lessons that can be applied to finishing your mobile suit build. (Or planes, trains, and automobiles too!)

Two color chipping

One of the items that immediately grabbed my attention was the “two color chipping” effect. We’ve all seen this on models. It generally is executed with one color being a lighter shade of the base, and the other being a high contrast color to represent the shadow or deeper ‘scar”. And here in real life was this very effect, shown perfectly. It shows that it’s not just a method to fool the eye- it’s modeling the real thing!

Notice that some areas are just the darker color, some are the lighter color, and a few show both- all different types of scrapes, and all very likely from different time periods.

It’s also interesting to note where the chipping and scrapes are. Obvious places, such as edges, are scarred. Other areas, places that likely receive the impact of various items being carried, are also chipped. Yet notice too that many edges are perfectly clean- and there weren’t really any signs of repaint. (Though that certainly adds interest to a model!)

Grease and grime

Another item I found interesting, though only a very small feature in this one photo, was the greasy stains around the large bolt, external to the piston. The piston, of course, is part of the hydraulic system that makes the forklift work, and it is under tremendous pressure, especially when being put to use.

Even the newest and best designed hydraulic system will at some point leak some fluid. The various rods and seals can only hold back the tons of force so much. When fluids leak out- whether it be hydraulic, lubricating, or something else- it is like a magnet to dirt. The dirt, as you can see in the photo, tends to “cake” into a sticky, grainy, very filthy mess.

And while our Gunpla are imaginary objects, there are real world aspects to their logic. Those legs, arms, feet, and all other points of articulation are really, really large hydraulic pistons. For an object of that size to move, run, jump, and fight, there would have to be literally tons of force being exerted for even the smallest movements. So leaks, big and small, would certainly appear. And they would look much like this real world example- only in a much bigger scale.

Mud and dirt

When I was a kid, I loved playing in the dirt and mud. Digging holes in the ground, calling them “forts”, was a favorite pastime. (I was a simple child…)

And then I was in the Army for a while, and dug real holes in the ground for real “forts”.

So I am very familiar with how mud and dirt can cover things.

Dirt tends to get on a machine in two general ways- dry dirt swirling around, either in the air, or being stirred up as the vehicle passes, or by way of mud, generally as the vehicle passes through it.

Dry dirt tends to be a much finer layer on the surface of an object, and does not often “stick” as much, though over time, with the effects of rain, dew, and other moisture, it can build up. Yet it also tends to drop off fairly easily.

Mud, on the other hand, can often stick like concrete. When it goes on, it is generally darker in color, but when it dries, it may get much lighter. And depending on how wet the mud is, and how deep the puddle of mud is, the splash effect can be very small, or extremely large. And the weight of the object, as well as the speed and direction of travel, can impact the size and direction of the splash. Once mud is on a vehicle, it can have portions that are in various states of drying, depending on how much time has elapsed since the “mud event”.

This photo shows a decent sized splash of mud (or possibly concrete, but the theory is the same), and it may have come from above, rather than below. Notice how the splash effect took place- a large, central area, and the other areas that were affected further out. Yet even there, some areas are clean, while adjacent areas are not.

Creatively applying mud effects is more than just coating an entire area!


Not that kind of streaking- get yer clothes on Ethyl! (Sorry…. old media reference… 🙂 )

Areas that may not receive much in the way of chipping or scratching, or very obvious mud or fluid effects, may still have subtle streaking that is caused by rain and dew on the vehicle, and the very light accumulation of dirt and dust that result. The dust will actually show areas where rain or dew may collect, and as the drops run down the side of the vehicle, it will remove some of the dirt and grime, yet deposit it in other areas.

While these can be some of the most subtle effect on a real world vehicle, in many ways, they are the most difficult to replicate convincingly. Yet they should not be overlooked, as this very subtle layer in the weathering process shows great attention to detail, and helps break up the monotony of what might otherwise be very monotone surface areas of a model.

Additionally, these areas can be matte, satin, or even glossy, depending on the time of day. While it doesn’t show well in this photo, the vehicle had some areas still covered with morning dew, while others had dried out. So the dry areas were very dull and matte, yet the areas still moist from the damp morning air had a bit of a sheen to them.

Replicating this effect on your model is not easy, but quite often when you hear or read that a model has great “depth” to its finish, it is the inclusion of this step that helps create that effect.

Sometimes weathering also means clean

A final aspect in weathering to point out is that often, there are more clean areas than dirty, especially in areas further away from whatever the “business end” of a vehicle is. Portions of the vehicle higher up may not get any mud. Streaking may be minimal, as more moisture washes away the upper layers of dirt and grime, and it only collects further down. Other areas may not receive any sort of impact that could cause chips and scratches. Systems that leak various fluids may not be exposed, so those effects might not be as apparent. Even areas where the machine operator climbs in an out can remain relatively clean, as their movement across the surface may rub away dirt and grime.

And I can attest to the fact, from my own military background, that most military vehicles are given a fairly regular wash, even if only to remove the most apparent dirt and grime.

While the forklift in the parking lot of my office had some very definite areas of weathering, many other sections were remarkably clean. And the overall impression of the vehicle, when viewed as whole, was of something well used, but not worn, dirty, and abused.

Of course, it’s also not a weapon of war, which has its own implications.

Still, the lesson is simple- not every area needs to be covered in some form of weathering. That look of depth discussed earlier will also include some clean, bright sections.

Wrapping up

Other factors come into play when weathering your Gunpla. Simulating these effects in scale is always a consideration. On this real world vehicle, most of the various streaks, chips, and stains were no wider than your hand, and many were much smaller than that. Only a very few areas were bigger than that, and none were of any great size.

Accounting for this size difference, in scale, often means that some of your weathering effects will actually be a bit exaggerated, if viewed in “real life”. Still, the idea is to simulate, generally, rather than purely replicate. And it is much easier to be more scale conscious on Megasize or Perfect Grade Gunpla than a Master Grade, and it is even more difficult on a Real or High Grade kit. Still, with practice, good weathering brings a model to life like no other application can.

While no one will likely ever get to examine a real mobile suit up close and personal, real world vehicles can be a great guide for weathering inspiration. It may be a bicycle, a car or truck, a bulldozer at a construction site, or even a military vehicle on display. Spend some time looking for these, and develop your own ways of simulating them in your Gunpla builds.

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