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Model-makers revive famed military figures

Update: December, 25/2012 - 18:03

 

Splash landing: A mock-up scene of the invasion of Normandy. — VNSPhotos Anh Minh
Take off: Aircraft SU 27UBK of Viet Nam Air Force, a precious item in Hai's collection. — Photo courtesy of Dang Huu Hai
Engineering the past: Miniature military cars are crafted with painstaking accuracy.
Model army: The mock-up scenes set up by the miniature collectors are so vivid that viewers might imagine that they are watching a slow movie of the Second World War. — VNS Photos Anh Minh
Precious weapon: Aircraft Mi-24V hind E Helicopter, an item in his collection that Hai is very proud of. — Photo courtesy Dang Huu Hai
 
Fascinated by the past, a growing number of people in Viet Nam are taking to military model-making, where they recreate famous battles from World War 2 in exquisite detail, but one 35th of the size. Anh Minh and Thu Huong report.Soldiers stained with earth and blood try to push forwards, despite fierce enemy fire. Rusting tanks roll towards the frontline, their barrels firing. Debris litters the muddy landscape. A typical Second World War battle scene.

There is one small difference. The soldiers and tanks in this scene are tiny-35 times smaller than reality, to be precise - and the battle is taking place in a 4.msq room equipped with professional spotlights.

Directing the action is Vu Minh Hung, the owner and creator of this tiny battle-field. He is the editor of an online news site, which he runs from his office in Ha Noi.

Hung first took up miniature art two years ago. He particularly focuses on making models of soldiers from the Second World War, which is a period of history that fascinates him.

"This hobby is very sophisticated, as the people pursuing it have to buy paint-sprayers, air-compressors and specialised paint imported from Japan. I used to buy everything I needed from Viet Nam, but the equipment broke down regularly and failed to meet expectations," Hung says.

Since becoming engrossed in his hobby, he often stays at home painting and drawing. He buys his plastic models from Japan, China and many other European and American companies, then follows the provided instructions to glue hundreds or even thousands of tiny plastic pieces together.

Dang Huu Hai, from the northern province of Binh Phuoc, is another avid collector. He has acquired about 50 models, mostly American and Russian weapons.

"I learned about the art from the website mohinhvn.org, which I was searching while looking for information about equipment used by Vietnamese soldiers. I have been pursuing my hobby now for nearly five years", Hai says.

The common scale of a popular model is 1:35. For example, a 20-cm-long miniature tank is based on a tank that is 7m long in reality. However, the scale of model warships is smaller (1:350) as their actual size tends to be huge.

Once the models have been imported, the most important and difficult process can begin: painting. For committed model artists like Hung and Hai, the colour and design must be accurate, which demands significant general knowledge about military history, geography and the pedology of historical battle-fields.

Hoang Anh, from Tan Binh District in HCM City, is another artist and collector. He says that in order to create a Second World War model he has to buy dozens of documentary films produced by the BBC about it in order to perfect his painting.

"For example, I had to read the history of tanks to learn crucial details such as tanks in desert battle-fields were painted yellow while those in tropical battle-fields were striped," he says.

The model is first painted so that it looks like new. Next, extra details are added if needed to make it look old and battle-worn so that is as life-like as possible, except for the size of course.

"To form a layer of mud on a model of an army vehicle, I first have to apply a rust-paint then add hair-spray over the top," Hung says. "After that, I paint the model its main colour before using alcohol to erase the main layer in some corners, which creates the rusty effects on the model's negative angles, where water stagnates most in reality. Dust is very hard to get right. Each battle-field had different kinds of dust. For instance, dust in the northern Africa is often dark due to the arid climate and dust in eastern Europe during a cold winter is dirty dark. In most situations though, dust is either red or brown."

Paint brushes of many sizes are used along with the spray to emboss even finer details. Hung points to an extremely realistic model of a military car. "If the canvas on this car had not been dry brushed, its details would not be embossed."

Hoang Anh is also a perfectionist when it comes to fine painting. "Soldiers, especially their eyes, are the most difficult to paint. They have to be painted with many layers, like tanks, to form sufficient contrast, while the pupils of the eyes must be no bigger than the tip of a toothpick. Wrong dotting or unnecessary paint will spoil the whole model. I have damaged two sets of soldiers already, so now I have to study thoroughly before embarking on making soldiers". His models were all ordered via the website taobao.com. Once bought, assembled and painted, they are finally ready for action.

According to him, experts in miniature art frequently create mock-up scenes for their models so that they look more life-like. Hai agrees, and says that he often creates battle-fields from the Viet Nam War in 1975 to proudly display his models.

 

Big kids: The miniature collectors are a diverse group comprised of both young and old fans.
 

Like many of his fellow collectors, he owns a high-quality camera so that he can show off his collection with his friends over the internet. Although the time, money and effort required to maintain this hobby may seem strange to some, Hung talks passionately about the drive and enjoyment he derives from it. Even his family are supportive. "To my surprise, they actually praise my models because they are so beautiful. But mostly they appreciate that my hobby means that I spend more time at home! Now I have started collecting, I never want to stop." — VNS

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