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From the opposite end of the workbench

…the twisted ramblings of a ship modeler.

Mutants who Judge...


I’ve stated a number of times that winning doesn’t matter that much to me personally. It’s nice, and I’m always happy when I place, but I’m not the kind of guy to be depressed about not placing or winning for any length of time…I’d like to think I’m mature enough to not let it bother me…either that or it’s the new medication I’m on.

What I can tell you bothers me, are a number of things involved with judging at model contests. Sometimes, and understandably so, it’s a simple error on the part of the judge, who may have written the 1st place winner in the 3rd place box, or something like that. Those errors are understandable and not really worth getting one’s blood pressure up about.

However, (here it comes) there’s a bunch of things that DO make my blood boil, and it’s here that I squarely place the blame on several people. Buckle up, because this isn’t going to be pretty.

Here’s some of the comments I’ve overheard while attending or judging contests.

‘They never painted ships like that, move on.’ (it was a Western Approaches scheme, btw)

‘I don’t like the shade of gray he used, we never painted our ships like that’

‘This one just doesn’t do it for me’

‘Is that Bob’s model? I’ve judged that one before, he’s in (or out).’

‘Why would anyone bring a handbrushed model to a show like this?’

‘This category stinks. Everything in it has something wrong’

‘Let’s just pick 3 and go to lunch’

‘I know it’s got bad seams, and the decals are silvering, but he’s added 10,000 scratchbuilt details to it!!’

‘I’m the only one who knows anything about ships, so I’m judging what I like.’

‘This model should be in the Juniors category’

‘Is ___________ a member of the club? Let’s take a closer look then…’


It’s a damn good thing I’m a calm good-natured fella with a decent sense of humor. (Excuse me, my therapist is on the phone). Every single one of these remarks caused my blood to boil, and in a couple of instances I took my models and went home, and they weren't even talking about mine.

I was going to split this article up and actually write a serious piece on what NOT to do when judging at a model contest, but decided that since I was on a roll, I’ll put it all here. Although this is of course supposed to be humorous, it nevertheless really makes me quite angry.

Head Judges: Listen up Master Mutants, there’s a few things you gotta consider when take the helm and assume the responsibility of being a Head Judge. First off, know your judges, and know their strengths, and their weaknesses. How can you be expected know that? ASK. Who here has judged before, raise your hand? Separate those people from the herd. Who here has judged at a Regional or higher, or is an experienced judge in a specific category? Separate those people from the herd.

You have now just determined who your team leaders will be…simple, wasn’t it???

Take your most experienced judges, and separate them from the rest. Why? Because they’re your knowledge base, bozo. These are the guys and girls that know what they’re looking for.

Ok, from this group of experienced judges, you ask…who can judge aircraft, armor, ships, etc.? Hand these people the judging sheets, they are now your team leaders. If you don’t have enough to cover the categories, then move to your second group, the first group you culled from the herd. These are your backups. Take the most experienced judges and put them in the most difficult categories…ALWAYS. 1/35 Armor, 1/48 aircraft are without a doubt the most difficult categories to judge, since they inevitably have the most entries. Put your best people here, since the quality is also generally high in these categories as well.

Ok, so you now have your team leaders and the categories divided…look at the rest of the herd, these are the lemmings of the judging world. Divide them up equally amongst the experienced judges and teams. Don't allow them to form their own teams, you're simply catering to the lowest common denominator if you do.

Hopefully, the rest of your Head Judge experience is a positive one. You, as head judge, are responsible for overlooking your teams and their results. Delegate the tallying of the results to someone else. Go back and review your judges’ decisions, and question them if you find something you think is wrong. That’s your job, do it.

Experienced Judges: I’ve met and worked with dozens, and there’s nothing I can really say other than ‘keep up the good work’.

Judges who THINK they’re experienced: I know a lot more of these than I care to admit, so here’s a few pointers. First off, no matter who you are, there’s someone out there who’s smarter, and is a better builder than you are. Don’t ever forget that. He may have built the model you’re judging, and just because you own every Squadron Signal book ever printed doesn't make you an expert. Being a judge doesn’t mean you’re all-knowing and all-powerful. It just means you’re a mutant who's volunteered to be opinionated.

There’s another category of judge that falls under this group, but I’ve made it a point to separate them from the rest of the lot, because these are the epitome of mutants. These are classified as 'Judges who are complete morons and shouldn't be allowed to propagate the species, much less judge models '.  Have you ever heard a judge say, “I like this one, That’s pretty”, or “That's wrong”??? If you have, you’re witnessing the opening phase of what I like to call “Mutant Induced Wow Delirium”. Judges are not supposed to care about how pretty a model is, or what he personally likes. You are not a film critic, trashing something that doesn’t appeal to your fancy. I hate those bozos too, “This film stinks”, but you see it anyway and it turns out to be a good movie. Anyway, you are a judge that is supposed to evaluate the construction and finish of the model, not the subject matter itself.

Did ya hear me?? You’re supposed to judge the construction and finish of the model!!!

Inexperienced judges:

These aren’t bad people, but inexperienced judges can be swayed by wow-factor (wow-factor is that 12 foot long ship model that looks like it was built by a 5 year old. It's big, and makes people say WOW, but it's not necessarily well built.), pretty models, and a number of other issues. Inexperienced judges are like squirrels, they're attracted to shiny, colorful objects. Why? They simply don’t know better. This is why you team them up with someone who knows what they’re doing. In instances like this, experience counts.

Just in case you don’t quite understand what I’m getting at, I’ve taken the liberty to point out some things you should be looking for, no matter what kind of model you’re judging. These simple steps can eliminate a lot of questions…

The first step in judging a series of models is to narrow the field and weed out the non-contenders. I know, it sounds cold, but that’s the way it’s done. Your final decision is going to come down to 3 models eventually. Don’t waste your time looking at a model for 25 minutes if it’s obviously not a contender. Take a note pad with you, and write down what you find as you go along.

#1. Look for the blatantly obvious, this means fingerprints, glue stains, body parts still attached to the model. If you see obvious signs of these things, move on to the next model.

#2. Was the model painted? Was it painted with a mop? Look for obvious signs of things like brush marks, severe ‘orange peel’ in the paint. Was the model clear coated?

There may come a point when you have no choice but consider a model that falls into the above categories. In some cases, if there's only 3 models in the category, you have to award that model, even if it's not worthy. I call this the 'lesser of all evils'.

These 2 steps should eliminate about 40% - 50% of the models on the table at a local contest…obviously, when you get to a Regional or National level event, this margin is considerably smaller. But then again, if you’re judging at a Regional or National, then you don’t need to read this crap.

From here, things can get a little more detailed, so I’ll highlight the key points based on model types.





Since most ship models today come equipped with a huge amount of photoetch, this is the most obvious place to look. Are railings bowed or popped off the hull? Are they mangled or otherwise misshapen? Are the rails relatively straight? Do they end where they’re supposed to, or can you see railing horizontals sticking off into space without a stanchion?






Since science fiction is usually fantasy or based on things that don’t exist in reality, you have to be a bit more creative here.


Outside of basic construction, like seams, etc., there’s a few things to consider.



General Appearance:

Is the model drybrushed? Has the modeler done a wash to accentuate details, like panel lines, rivets, or details like ladders, hatches, or engine details?


Scope of Work:

Here’s a perfect example…a Thoroughbred 1/700 Ironclad model with 3 parts is in the same category as a resin 1/700 battleship. Both are constructed well, both are weathered, but the rail on the battleship is a little curvy. Who wins? In my opinion, this is where scope of work outweighs the simpler model. Use your judgment, because some judges will often go the other way and overlook major flaws. This doesn't always agree with IPMS rulings, but unless the error in the larger, more complex model is huge, you should take into consideration the scope of work involved in the project.  


I’m not going to get into weathering, because it’s purely a judgment call on your part. Models can be clean or dirty, and you shouldn’t judge a model negatively because it’s either too clean or too dirty, unless the modeler uses weathering to cover up a mistake. Don’t hold it against him unless you can see the error. Models are not required to be weathered, just remember that. It adds to the appearance of the model, yes, and in most instances improves the look, but it's not required. If you've ever seen a clean tank, aircraft, or ship, or a dirty car, then you have perfect reason to choose whether or not to weather...(a weak play on words, sorry).


Now obviously, there's a whole set of criteria for judging models, printed by the International Plastic Modelers Society. Regardless of whether or not you like IPMS, the judging standards are solid, and are available for everyone to see. I didn't use the IPMS manual to point out the things above, I used a basic understanding of modeling, and I used experience from making many of the mistakes myself. There could very well be some things I've pointed out that don't agree with IPMS rules. I personally don't care, my system has worked effectively for years, and I've never heard any complaints from modelers or IPMS judges.

All of these things to look for can be compiled into a single phrase ‘ COMMON SENSE’. Look at the model objectively, and remember that behind that model is a person, who may or may not be a mutant,  who spent hours building it, crafting it, and that person thinks that his model is worthy of competition, otherwise, it wouldn’t be on the table. Where is this going, you say?

When you’re judging, talk to the other judges in a low-tone, and keep your stupid, idiotic, and asinine remarks to yourself, ok rocket-boy? Comments like, ‘that model sucks’ or ‘forget that one’ will ruin a modeler’s day faster than dropping his model on the floor. It also shows your ignorance to your fellow judges, most of whom you probably don’t know that well in the first place.

Modelers, especially the newer modelers, like to get feedback on their work. Many will try to stay within earshot of the judges so they can get the inside scoop. Don’t pee in their Cheerios by making a stupid comment.

Why is all of this important? Have I been the victim of bad judging? I’ve been the victim a few times in my life, but this rant is not because of me, it’s for someone else. Actually, it was a couple of people.

At a recent show, I brought my Admiral Ushakov to the table in the 1/700 category. An incredible 1/700 IJN Tone arrived on the scene, and I conceded victory willingly. Then my pal Martin arrives with his Saratoga, and we openly agree we’re fighting for 2nd and 3rd. Then Felix Bustelo arrives and it becomes a complete toss-up, it’s anyone’s guess, but we all agreed that Tone was the number one ship.

Judges come, spend all of about 5 minutes looking at the 8-10 models, and write it up and move on…the results were incredible to say the least.

1st Place was Ushakov. Although mine, clearly not the most deserving model.

2nd Place was IJN Tone.

3rd Place was a hand painted, unrailed 1/1200 Roma. Glue stains, gloss spots, and finger prints.  Martin didn’t place, Felix didn’t place. I was stunned.

Then we moved on to 1/350 scale…I have my recently completed Shiranui, which has mopped up at all the previous shows, there’s a nicely painted Schnellboot with a number problems, like the screws being on backwards, and unable to turn because they can’t clear the struts. There’s a very nice pair of ISW kits, an SC and Flower Class corvette that were very nicely done, and an LCVP (?) that was also in the running. Felix shows up with his USS Monterey and it’s anyone’s guess again…I also notice a pair of Tamiya PBRs that aren’t quite up to the caliber of some of the others.

Again, 5 minute pass for the judges, and the winners…

1st place was one of the Tamiya PBRs. (if the owner reads this, hey, it’s a nice model, but not deserving of 1st place)

2nd place was my Kagero.

3rd place was the Schnellboot with the backwards screws.

Then when Best Ship is announced, the 3rd place winner gets Best Ship…I’m confused at this point.

I judged 1/72 aircraft, and in the quest to determine Best Aircraft, we reviewed the 1/48 winners. An orange-peeled F-86 took 1st, and a badly misaligned Harrier took Second. The winning aircraft in many opinions, a Bachem Natter and EA-6B, didn’t place. The judges later admitted they ‘had no clue what they were doing’…ugh.

You can call it an injustice, you can call it poor judging, you can call it what you want. I call it unacceptable.

For the record, I’d like to say a few personal things to some people. They probably don’t care about the little plastic trophies, but they deserve the recognition.

Marion – Your IJN Tone was not only the best ship in 1/700, it was Best Ship overall.

Felix – You got shafted.

Martin – You got shafted.

Oscar – Your Natter should have won 1/48 Jets, no question.

As for me, well, I didn’t deserve 1st in 1/700, but I should have had a shot at 1/350.

Now go build a model, ‘cause chances are it’s gonna be judged by a mutant sometime soon!!!!


Jeff Herne