There are many iconic spaceships in the Star Wars universe. One of my favourites has always been the Imperial (Lambda Class) Shuttle, originally featured in Return of the Jedi.
In part this is because it is a clean classic design, but primarily it is because I have a soft spot for the original toy version. Now I never had this, but I do distictly remember the TV ad (probably because this was one of the last things to be released in the original toy line).
Any how, I have wanted a centrepiece model for Star Wars gaming for a now while and some time ago came across a set of STL files on Thingiverse. The issue here was that I wanted to do this Legion scale so from the off this was going to be a long project in terms of print time.
The model as available for download would not fit on my print bed when scaled up to the size I wanted (and I wasn’t keen on the suggested way of splitting the file on Thingiverse). I therefore spent some time ‘re-cutting’ the model in Meshmixer in order to come up with parts that would both scale up and fit on the print bed. From a scaling perspective I dropped a Stormtrooper model into the slicer alongside the cockpit to try and get an approximate scaling factor. I know I am bound to be asked at some point what the scaling was, but to be honest I cannot remember I’m afraid.
In the end I cut the model into seven parts – main hull, cockpit, fin and then each wing split in two.
The printing on this took a VERY long time. My Creality CR-10S FDM printer has a relatively large build area and even with the model split as I did I totalled the time at approximately 22 days!
Once printing was completely I needed a way of adequetly assembling the model. I’m no expert in 3D modelling, so when cutting the model up I did this very simply with ‘flat cuts’ – I’m sure someone more skilled would have been able to create pegs and or plugs to align the model parts. I went somewhat old school here however and got the hobby drill and a few wooden kebab skewers out in order to do some traditional pinning.
Green stuff was used to gap fill and the whole model was given a good going over with sandpaper to smooth out any layer lines from the printing process.
A comment on the 3D model itself at this point. This had been designed to have foldable wings, and I was keen to maintain this feature. However the truth of the matter is that as a tabletop ‘scenery’ piece it would be for the most part in landing configuration with wings folded up. The kebab skewers were used again this time thread through the model to provide the ‘axle’ for the folding mechanism. Due to some variance in the tolerances of the print I did have to realign some of the holes in the wings in order to get these to fit.
In addition, there was no means of holding the wings in this position as part of the 3D model itself, so again the drill and some cut down kebab skewers were the answer to the problem.
The 3D design also missed a couple of features of the original ship. While I could live without the wing cannons, I really wanted to do something to add in a landing gear and ramp. There is something very iconic about the scenes in the film where first Vader and later on when the Emperor emerges from the shuttle.
After studying some reference photos I realised that the landing gear of the shuttle comprised of two legs mounted mid way down the hull. The key here from a modelling perspective was finding something that I could get it to balance on while keeping the shuttle stable as gaming piece on the tabletop.
A brief scan of the bits box resulted in almost the perfect parts for this. Originally from the Mantic Deadzone scenery set these small ‘stumps’ (originally the base of some sort of cannon) were perfect. I then positioned these in such a way that the shuttle with wings folded up would balance perfectly.
At the same time I found a similar suitable piece from my spares box, again part of a Mantic scenery kit. I was keen that this could be opened and closed and after a quick visit to my daughters Lego collection I ‘borrowed’ a few bits to fashion a hinge. A small square base was then used to hide the visible Lego.
I actually added the landing gear and ramp after I had begun the painting of the model, but for the purposes of narrative I’ll cover the painting process now. The assembled model was given a once over of grey Halfords car primer with the intention that I then airbrush on successively lighter shades of grey.
It soon became apparent that this would take way too long. The undercoat colour was close enough to what I was aiming for, so I simply stuck with this while I picked out some of the panels with a darker grey. I tied the whole thing together with an overall drybrush of light grey, concentrating particularly on edge highlights. The cockpit was painted black and then given a coat of Games Workshop Nuln Oil gloss wash to give it a shiny appearence. The images below also show the ramp attached and in place.
The engines were painted white and then given a blue contrast coat, followed by an off-white drybrush highlight.
The final touch was to add a few subtle decals (the Galactic Empire was never much for strident liveries). I happened to have a couple of left over Imperial symbols from a Bandai AT-ST kit I had built a few years ago. I placed a couple of these on the cockpick as well as on the main fin.
And there we have it, probably one of the longest hobby projects I have ever done from start to finish and another reminder that while 3D printing is an excellent addition to the tabletop hobby it comes with a signficiant requirement for patience. At some point soon I intend to setup the shuttle with some of my recently painted Star Wars miniatures in order to take some additional photos, but for the time being I am calling this project done.
I have to say that one of the most enjoyable bits of this project for me was the additional kitbashing on top of the 3D printed model and this is something I have taken to the extreme in my next big spaceship project, more of which soon….