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Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Steve Cole explains how new miniatures are created.
The management system I use (which works when I don't forget to use it) is to have a combined list of every new miniature for 2400, 2425, 2450, and 2500 and where it is in the process. These steps go from design to CGI that was posted on the BBS to a CGI that was sent to prototype to a prototype on my desk to masters on my desk to production pieces for sale in our warehouse. It's not a straight path as many things have to be done more than once, some things can only be done in batches, and with a lot of different ships in the process of creation it's hard to keep track of them all any other way.
These steps are complicated, and most of them are not under my control. As manager, all I can do is to keep track of who is doing what and remind them to move along with the project. Things happen, people get busy, and things that take a day or two for somebody to finish might wait a week or two before that somebody has time to work on them. You'd think that perfectly competent grownups would move along without guidance, but they have questions, issues, problems, and interruptions. The reality is that if you don't remind them every week, sometimes something gets stalled for weeks. (This is why Jean reminds ME every week to go through the minis list and see who needs a push, or help, or questions answered, or whatever.)
Tuesdays are minis days (unless I am really busy when I might skip one Tuesday in a given month, but even that is dangerous) and I go over each miniature and have a chat with whoever is doing the next step. Tuesday is not the only day I do things related to minis; but it IS the day that nothing I can do is left not done. I might not do quality control on a new shipment the day it arrives, but I do not leave the building Tuesday without doing it. I might not post a new CGI the day Sandrine emails it to me, but I don't leave the building Tuesday until it is posted. Now, the reality is that some things I could do are not done. I COULD send preliminary data and drawings on 40 or 50 ships to the sculptors, but the reality is that they can't work on more than two or three at a time and so there's no point in my stacking up stuff in their in-boxes.
The steps are complex. First, we pick a ship we want to do. This might be a 2500 being rescaled for 2400s (e.g., the Klingon D7K), an existing 2400 being done over for 2500s (e.g, the Orion CA), an entirely new ship done for both 2400 and 2500 (e.g., Klingon HF5 heavy war destroyer), or a ship being done for the multi-scale 2425s (e.g., the jumbo freighter).
Once picked, I send drawings and (a 2400 sample if there is one) to the sculptor (usually Sandrine at Mongoose, sometimes Will at Seattle). Sometimes I wait weeks for the CGI sculptor to do their thing, which is where that "gently remind them to move forward" thing comes into play.
The sculptor works up a CGI and emails it to me. I check it (and perhaps direct changes), then Steve Petrick checks it (and perhaps directs changes), then it goes on the BBS and Facebook for a week or two of public comment. I then collect the public comments on the next Tuesday and send them to the sculptor, who fixes any issues. Sometimes that leads to another round of checks and posting, while other times I can approve the CGI to go to prototype. A given ship might go through one round of public comment or as many as five or six.
Mongoose sends CGI-ships to be made into plastic prototypes in batches, so sometimes a CGI-ship that is ready has to wait weeks for some friends to go along on the trip.
Then the prototypes land on Matthew's desk. If he approves them, they go to ADB and if we approve them (Jean photographs them and puts them up on our page on Facebook), they go to Bruce at the casting house. You would think if the CGI were good the prototype would be, but this is not the case. All too often, phasers on the CGI are missing on the prototype. If that happens, we might do the prototype over or we might have a sculptor add the phasers to the masters. Bruce might stop a prototype because he thinks it won't cast well. Just because a prototype is made doesn't mean we don't have to go back and do it over.
Then a number of prototypes are put into a master mold. Here is another chance for delay. If there are not enough prototypes to fill a master mold, then perfectly good prototypes will sit waiting for some friends to join them. There is no way to work "batches" through the system because one ship might have six rounds of public comment while another has one. Ships move forward when they move forward, not when it's their turn. A fast-moving ship might get produced before a problematic ship goes to prototype.
The master mold is then spun a dozen times to produce metal masters, one or two of which is sent to ADB. At this point, anything could happen. We might approve it (and let Jean photograph it). We might have the masters worked over by a master modeler such as Tony Thomas, who might fix a full set or might just create one "correct" one which goes back into a master mold. We might tell Mongoose to do the prototype over again. We might decide not to do the ship at all. Or something else might happen.
If the masters are approved, then a set of them (usually eight) goes into a production mold. (In some cases, it takes two or three production molds to make one ship, since it doesn't work to cast pieces of very different sizes in the same mold.) Assuming that all of this works, the production mold arrives at the casting house and a few spins are made, and a few samples are sent to ADB. Assuming we approve those, we give one or two of them to an artist to paint for the shopping cart, let Jean take some photos, and order a production batch from Bruce. Once the production batch arrives, it is run through the Quality Control Committee and those that pass are put into inventory. Jean then photographs them and announces them as ready for sale.
Sometimes, even at this last step, we may come to the conclusion that the ship won't work. The problem is that at every step the model changes a little. The master is just a tiny bit smaller and thinner than the prototype, and the production ships are tiny bit smaller than that. (The CGI is designed to allow for this, but it's hard to guess just how much is enough.) What was a perfectly strong Kzinti wing on a CGI may be so thin in the production model that you cannot put it in a box without bending it or breaking it. When that happens, we might to back to the masters and have Tony Thomas thicken the thin parts or add missing parts we didn't notice were missing. Then we do a new production mold. Sometimes, we have no choice but to go all the way back to the CGI and thicken the parts most likely to bend, then do a new prototype, which goes into the next available master mold, and so on.
As you can see, it's a multi-step process, and every step may have to be done over several times (or might work the first time). Just keeping track of everything and what stage it is in is a management chore. Sooner or later, a production batch of a new ship arrives at the warehouse and is officially released. It is impossible to predict when a given ship will appear because it is impossible to predict what will happen at each step. The point of managing the system is to keep enough things moving forward that a steady flow of new items is released.