Interview with Michael Fichtenmayer (Part II)

Continuing from

Your latest project is the Fish-Shaped Submarine. It is really great!

Thanks! Glad you like it. There has been a lot more interest than I have anticipated and it looks like I'll have to do a second run before too long as the First Edition has all been reserved and then some.

Where did this idea come from?
I am honestly not sure what made me create this. I am a fan of the Steampunk style (although you'll never catch me dressing up like that!) and had already created one small robot suit model called the Dampfrich in the style. I had been wanting to do another steampunk creation and make it a model master as well. Jules Verne is a huge steampunk influence so I suppose the Nautilus rubbed off on me. I like to create things in 1/35 or 1/20 scale so doing a full-sized submarine would be problematic and cost-prohibitive. A small single man fish-shaped one however… that's the way to go! I started Googling «weird fish» and other sea creatures and doing a few sketches before finding a weird little big-eyed dory that had just the shape I was looking for. After the rough sketch I dived right in and anything I didn't figure out in the sketch I mad eup as I went along. I tend to do that when I design stuff. It's modeling by the seat of my pants!
What are your plans after the Fish Submersible? Any more Steampunk?
Definitely some more steampunk! I've already started planning my next two steampunk inspired releases. My planning usually involves a lot of very rough sketches and lots of thinking. Sometimes I spend more time thinking about what I want to do and how to do it than the actual doing. I also have other ideas for things I'd like to master, but all in good time. I try not to reveal too much too soon.
You have mentioned the Dampfrich project. After the painting it looks like the real thing! 
Could you recommend any resources to our readers as  sources for tips and techniques of model finishing? What worked for you?
Thanks! There's no better tool than research. For any build where I'm trying to make something look real I spend hours looking for image reference online. It's amazing what a Google image search will come up with. I've also gotten completely unrelated results that have inspired me to do other projects. The best resources for tips and techniques are usually in-progress threads on modeling forums. (FichtenFoo Forums, Mig Productions Forums, Starship Modeler, more....) Search around the forums and don't be afraid to ask how a modeler achieved a certain effect. Most will be happy to show off their skills. I make tutorials for my own site as I know some people will find them useful and because I tend to forget how I did things. So it helps me remember years later how to replicate my own results. If you find a few modelers you really admire, you can search around for their past builds and follow their future ones. Don't just stick to researching your own favorite genre either as you can stagnate and not grow. Even though my love is for sci-fi, my favorite modelers at the moment model railroad and civilian subjects. You need to do a lot of scratch-building and the subjects tend to be slices of life, things we see daily, that would easily look weird and unrealistic in a smaller scale. They're awesome people to learn scenery and diorama tips from.

How do you manage your time with kids, web design, managing other peoples’ sites and building models?
I had a pretty awful job teaching web design to 18-20 year olds that could care less. When my oldest was born, my wife and I decided that I could do freelance from home and watch our daughter and she could keep her better-paying full time job. This was a much better solution than spending too much money on day-care and I get more time with my girls. It was hard at first but I manage and balance my time pretty well. I work on web design or modeling when the kids are at school, friends, or sleeping. I probably get about an hour or three in a day at the bench which is fantastic. If I have a lot of web-work to do, I start it after my wife gets home and takes over taking care of the kids. The web design jobs always come before modeling. Recently however there hasn't been a lot of web design work. A lot of us web designer are hurting in this bad economy as are a lot of other people. I can't complain though… there are people worse off, and I make a little extra by doing some really fun commissioned models and dioramas.
Do you actively participate in a local modeler club, shows and competitions?
I used to belong to the local IPMS chapter and compete in online and local contests. I lost interest in competing and the club in general. Too many egos and people can get very threatened and competitive. It's a hobby and supposed to be fun and it didn't feel fun there. As for competitions, modeling is an art and as such it's very subjective. There's different styles, methods, skill levels, etc… Throw in people who either don't know enough to judge or are overly biased and at the end of the day medals and trophies are worthless scrap. Not that I wasn't excited to win at my first ever live model competition, but I soon learned that it didn't really matter what other people thought of my work. As long as I had fun making it and enjoy looking at it on my shelf, that was the best award I could ask for. I never build a model thinking «will this win X contest?», I build thinking «How can I make this cooler and what new skills can I use to get the look I want?» The real joy to me is the process and discovery. Every kit is a puzzle with many solutions. I just need to discover the best one for any particular build.
Everyone is going to get his share of criticism at some point. How do you react to it?
I can't say I've always reacted well to it, but I try to learn from it rather than let it stop me. The criticisms that have gotten to me were usually based on personal issues people had with me or their own preferences and not with something I did on the model in question. Those are the kinds of criticisms that aren't worth worrying about. I love constructive criticism though and it's one of the things we stress at my forum. (it's an actual rule!) A friend of mine commented on some roadway for my Markov Anti-Gravity racer buildthe other day and I'm already researching on how to improve it for the next piece I'm working on. I take the criticism and use it as a way to improve.

Do you have a favorite project?
If I had to pick just one to keep it'd be my Mosquito plane. That ruffled quite a bit of aircraft modelers when I took it to an IPMS meeting. It was going to be two 1/72 planes for an ME109 build-off, but the planes just seemed boring to me so I decided to do something different with them. It's one of my favorites because even though it was done back in 2006 and I've certainly improved since then, it still looks good in my eyes. I tend to be my own worse critic and while it certainly has flaws (here comes another engineering debate) I would not change a thing with the design or finishing. I can't say that about a lot of my other pieces. I'm always looking at how I can improve things and that results in a lot of reading forums and following the techniques of my favorite modelers. 

Michael, thank you very much for this opportunity to talk to you. Good luck with all of your projects.  I cannot wait to see something new on your website.
Thank you as well! There's probably something new there already! I try to keep the site frequently updated with progress images and techniques used on whatever it is I'm working on.
  • +1
  • 09 October 2010, 20:48
  • Minsk94

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