During the winter months of 1994/95, the Army unit I was part of had been sent to work in some refugee camps in Panama. We’d been split into three man teams, each team assigned to a different camp. Because we were left alone to “do our own thing” most of the time, our morning PT (physical training) was done individually.
At the time, I loved to run. Not that I was a fast runner, mind you. But I could run for a long, long time, at a fairly steady pace. In fact, it seemed no matter how hard I tried, I could rarely go faster than a 6 minute mile. However, whether it was 2 miles, or 15 or more, the pace always seemed to be the same.
Avoid The Laser
Panama, of course, is very near the Earth’s equator, which means it tends to be generally warm. While the area we worked in was adjacent to the canal zone, the other side was bordered by fairly thick jungle. At the time, I simply admired it from afar. Behind our camp, hills rose up, covered in lush, thick trees. It held a mysterious quality to it, and because my work didn’t require me to go into it, I generally stayed out of it.
I normally went on my runs early, before the sun came up. There was a road that ran parallel to the canal’s route, and so I’d get up each morning, and run down that, headed from the Pacific side towards the Carribean side. I timed it so that I’d just be getting back to our camp about the time the sun came up.
If I ever missed my timing, I paid for it. As soon as the star around which we travel came up, its heat felt like a giant laser – one that could not be retreated from or avoided. It was not unbearable, certainly, yet by no means was it comfortable either. So getting back in a timely manner was important.
Heart Of… Darkness?
I don’t recall why I was late one particular morning, but by the time I was ready to go running, the sun was almost up. As I liked to get in at least 6-8 miles daily, I knew most of it would be in the sun. One of my camp companions, part of the Special Forces team we were working with, mentioned that he liked running along a jungle road that wound through the hills behind the camp.
Still a bit wary about the possibility of large jungle animals dragging me off for a meal, I asked him a few questions about the route. He assured me that the trail was wide enough for two pickup trucks, and that as long as you stayed on the main trail, it eventually came out along a road I was familiar with.
So armed with some reassuring knowledge that I would not become critter food, I went off into the jungle.
Blinky Lights Everywhere
I headed up the trail that entered the foliage, eyeing it all the way. At first it seemed like any wooded area, as it had been partially cleared. But as the trail went further into the hills, the lush green jungle took over.
It wasn’t like I hadn’t been through heavily jungled areas before. I had… only it was from the safety of our vehicles. Seeing it up close and personal was a bit intimidating, at first. Much like in a movie, all the sounds seemed intensified. I could almost hear ominous music playing, getting louder and louder as a giant beast stalked me.
But then I started paying attention to everything. The sun only penetrated here and there through the dense canopy, creating almost cathedral like lighting. The trail seemed as though a tunnel, burrowed through the vegetation. And the wildlife – it was everywhere. Lizards of all shapes and colors darted here and there across the trail, up the trees, scurrying into the brush. Birds flew in endless streams through the limbs of the green ceiling, their calls strange yet symphonic in a way. Here and there I saw the largest dragonflies darting about I had ever seen. The whole thing seemed to be from a distant age. I half expected to spot a brontosaurus, it’s tiny head perched on long neck soaring above me, munching leaves from a nearby tree.
As I passed an area where one side of the hill dropped steeply to the side, I could peer into multiple layers of the jungle. I stopped, perplexed by what I saw…
It appeared to be dozens, if not hundreds, of bright blue blinking lights.
In Praise of RE/100
This kit is not the first Bandai RE/100 kit I’ve built, nor will it be the last. I can’t say it’s the best… but it’s no slouch.
If you’re not familiar with it, Bandai has various scales and grades of their mobile suits. Two of the most popular scales are 1/100 and 1/144. The typical 1/100 scale kit is called a Master Grade. It’s highly detailed with hundreds of parts. The more popular 1/144th scale kits are the High Grade line, and contain fewer parts, and somewhat simpler detail.
The RE/100 kits basically combine the size and external detail of the master Grade kits with the lower parts count and simplicity of the High Grade kits. For the purist, that’s a bit of an oversimplification, but for the purposes of this article – it works.
I’ve built more than a few of the 1/100 Master Grade kits, and I enjoyed them all. (Except one… 😉 ) Still, the high parts count can get a little old in the early stages of nipping, denubbing, and priming. The RE/100 line gets around that.
Some Simple Weathering
I’d base coated the model with AK Real Color Russian Cockpit Turquoise. It wa almost an exact match for the kits plastic. A darker blue, some red, yellow, and a bit of silver rounded out the base colors.
When I was pondering the weathering, I decided to try a minimalist style. I’d been watching a Youtube channel called Like Gunpla. His work is very good, and tends to be on the cleaner, shinier side. I didn’t want this model to be totally clean, but I did want to see how I could execute a less weathered look.
The process started by giving all the panel lines a shade of Citadel’s Nuln Oil. I like using this on Gunpla as it is far more Bandai plastic friendly. While you can use oil and enamel washes, if any of the thinners for those products gets into joints or assembly pegs, the plastic will often just come apart. I had that happen once on an early Gunpla build, so I’ve always taken care to avoid it.
Nuln Oil seems to happily get along with the softer plastic. it’s application method is different, though. Instead of applying it on and then rubbing off the excess, it’s best to apply it neatly and carefully, with any cleanup being an immediate touch with a second clean brush damp with water.
Only Eat A Few Chips? Impossible!
For me, applying chips on a model’s surface is like trying to not eat the chips at a Mexican restaurant. It’s simply not possible. I eat them all, and ask for more. So it goes on a model. Restraint is simply a word in the dictionary. 🙂
However, going with the minimalist view, I really, really, really tried to not overdo it. I think I partially succeeded. On the turquoise sections, I went with Vallejo Mecha Color Chipping Brown. I initially tried applying these a la Lincoln Wright style with a larger brush, but my technique there is not up to speed yet. The result was more chips than I wanted.
Thus I reverted back to my old trusty sponge, but applied very, very lightly. This began to produce the pattern I was hoping for… a few chips here and there, but nothing that took over. For the blue areas, I switched to Vallejo Model color Blue Green. While not a perfect match for the AK color, it produced chips that looked close enough to suggest that the undercoat was all turquoise. I suppose in a “real world” sense that doesn’t logically follow. However, in terms of making sense to the viewers eye, I felt it fit.
Tiny Streaks And Stains
For the streaks and stains, I decided the way to keep that under control was by confining them to the width of a #0 liner brush tip. Making use of Vallejo Weathering Effect Engine Oil and Petrol Spills (both gloss acrylics), I simply started “drawing in” some streaks and stains where it seemed logical.
And a few places that in retrospect that didn’t. Waddaya do? 😉
Here and there I combined colors too, overlapping them, blending them… basically in an attempt to suggest that this 18 meter tall stompy robot thing still bowed to the rules of fluid dynamics.
I also used them in a few places to not only suggest stains, but to subtly enhance shadows.
Reviewing my work, something still didn’t seem quite right. It all looked “flat”.
Break Out The Airbrush
I realized that the minimal weathering left large swathes of open, flat armor. Because the suit doesn’t have a lot of surface detail, my eye tended to “blur out” looking at it. There were no features to draw focus to. I decided to employ a simple technique I’d used on aircraft to address the same thing.
Loading a highly diluted and toned down version of the turquoise into my airbrush, I “scribbled” on rando lines and patterns. Call it fading, wear, weathering, or just a middle aged man swirling his airbrush around, I felt it gave the suits armor a more realistic appearance. The lighter color gave the eye something to “latch on” to.
In a similar fashion, a darker shade of turquoise was then added into recess and panel lines, again with the airbrush. This served to increase the volume of the shapes by making the shadows appear deeper. A smoky thinned down mix was applied around exhaust vents and other areas that might see that type of stain. Here I went a bit heavier, as I figured it only took one burn from a rocket engine to produce some soot.
All was then sealed off with Vallejo Mecha Color Matte Varnish.
I Can Go Twice As High
As I squinted to see into the jungle (I wasn’t wearing my glasses), it dawned on me what the “lights” were.
Concentrated in a fairly small area, there were dozens of them, the upper parts of their wings appearing as a bright, electric turquoise color. The undersides, however, were gray. What I was seeing was the sun reflecting off of that bright blue color as they flew, or sat on trees, opening and closing their wings.
And they were really large too. I began to notice a few flying closer to me. I hadn’t paid attention before because when nearby, the light did not play off of them as it did further down the ravine. Many seemed almost as big as my hand.
I stood in awe of these wonderfully created works of art, flitting through the trees. Though I’m not always a smart man, on this occasion, something in my brain said “just stand here and absorb this. It will likely never come your way again.”
So I stood there, alone on a jungle trail, soaking in the wonder and amazement of it all.
Wow, That Is A Loose Connection, Dude
So what does all that have to do with the Dijeh?
Simple… the first time I saw it, I immediately thought “that reminds me of those butterflies in Panama,” 🙂
I’ll admit it. I built this one because I saw beauty in it. It’s not the coolest design ever. In terms of articulation, it’s pretty much a brick. Yet for some reason, each time I pick it up, my mind wanders back to that day. It carries me along to a fond memory, in a place far, far away.
The kit is a fun RE/100 Gunpla. Aside from articulation shortcomings, this model has no vices. It’s very unique looking, and assembles easily. If you like the design, or simply want to try a kit from that particular line, I give this one “two thumbs up”.
I did run through along that trail a few mornings aftwards, but never at a time that reproduced the lighting conditions to watch the blinky butterflies. Running before the sun came up was a bit – scary? 😀 Waiting too long into the day ate into the work obligations, and while the sun didn’t fully penetrate the trees, the high humidity and heat made it difficult even in the shape I was in.
I doubt I’ll ever be able to go to Panama again, and certainly not have the freedom to go along that trail. But it’s nice to be able to call up those memories from 25 years ago. And it is even nicer when my hobby so wonderfully intersects with them.
And I need to remember the lesson of that day. Take time to stop and… watch the butterflies.