When it comes to branching out into the world of mecha modelling, they’ll perhaps come a time when you want to start developing your own ideas outside of the kit’s ‘out of box’, or associated series. Everyone’s path and learning pace is of course different, but if you have not done any customisation before I urge you to get the basics down first. I have witnessed too many times, beginners creating customs right off the bat that are publicly (and unfairly) shot down in flames due to a lack of experience in the basics of modelling, and sometimes without even applying a little self-critique, and it’s not a pretty sight. This article however is not about modelling per se, but is to advise on how you can develop your own concepts, themes and ‘back stories’ for your kits to start off your process of realising your ideas, if you want to try this route at all.
What is a back story?
Remember this, it really does not matter about canon. The kit is your’s, and you are not bound by any rules on how it should look. If you are fond of canon, and want to make it fit in say, the Gundam Universal Century timeline, then by all means do, just perhaps be more mindful of the type of critique you will receive, if you choose to showcase. You could even do a ton of research to really get it believable. Up to you! I’ve placed a few of my works in canon so far, such as this Geara Doga MG neo-zeon Daikun tribute.
A back story is of course a story surrounding your model. You can think about several aspects, such as who is the pilot? Which side is he / she on? What kind of character does the pilot have that would affect how the model looks? What weapons would he / she favour? Would he / she choose high-mobility? Light-weight armour? Environment is also a factor. Does your story take place on earth? Will your model be subject to weather conditions? Perhaps think about time too – how old is the model? Signs of rust? Fresh off the assembly line? The sky really is the limit here and what’s important is, can you convey it in your model?
Getting as much detail as possible can really help you focus on what you need to do, and can also really push your skills to help you improve. Having made your own story too, is surprisingly motivational since it invests your personality into your subject. Here’s a rudimentary ordered check-list, to help you dig down into a rich back-story:
- Universe: Chaotic / Warring Factions / Feudal / Peaceful / Pirates! / Terrorist / Post-war / Pre-war / Totalitarian / Religious conflict / Alternative reality / Canon / Our reality!
- Pilot’s character: Good / Bad / Neutral / Psychotic / Stoic / Virtuous / Mysterious / Funny / Egotistical / Complex / Dumb / Naive or no pilot at all!
- Mech: Completely customised (to fit pilot, or not!) / modified / standard, but with custom paint work / Grunt / Super-boss! / unconventional (maybe it’s got 4 legs?) / inappropriate / Non-combatant or civilian use / Covert / Support / Heavy / Light / Alien / Holy / Factory fresh / Space-weathered / Land-weathered / Battled / Destroyed / Long-distance range / Short range / A model, of a model? Getting all meta now!
- Load-out: Standard / Make-shift / Heavy / Light / Overkill / Unconventional / Cumbersome / Ranged / Melee / None?
This is of course, not just tied to a single character or mech. You could include all of this if you are intending to do a diorama with multiple models. You can be as in-depth, or as vague as you like. You could even provide a back story when you are showcasing, if you feel it’ll help. Just bear in mind, most people will not take the time to read it!
For some examples, I asked a couple of well known modellers about their projects. Special thanks to them for taking the time to answer my questions 🙂
Child of Mecha has a great example of back-story in canon work within the Gundam Universal Century timeline, more specifically in the wake of the Advance of Zeta series of picture novels, with the hugely impressive MSZ-006C1 (Bst) Zeta+ C1 Hummingbird, and included elements of the back-story on a plaque located in the display base:
As you can see, Tim (AKA Child of Mecha) has created a back story from the Universe (Alternate canon, Universal Century), the Pilot (Lt. Thomas ‘red’ O’Malley, special forces pilot), the Mech (Customised, heavy weaponry, space-faring, long-range travelling off the factory line) and the Load-out (Heavy, long range, powerful and customised, even has the pilot’s name as a decal!). Some additional factors Tim has included are what ship it was deployed from, what military detachment and faction it belongs with, and the time period in the UC line in which it is set. Just goes to show, you are not limited to just is it zeon or feddy? I asked Tim what his process was to come up with the back-story for this almighty project:
“Tough one. I think it originated from looking at the history of the Hummingbird online, how it was originally designed as an escort unit for the Plan303E Deepstriker, but since that was cancelled, so was the Hummingbird. Then I wondered what would it look like if the Hummingbird wasn’t cancelled, but yet further refined. I had the idea of a special unit that piloted Hummingbirds and Zeta+’s and the Grim Reapers were born. I wanted to keep the unit name and miscellaneous information somewhat grounded in reality. Since Annapolis is the state capital of Maryland (where I live), and it’s also home to the US Naval Academy, it made sense to think that a ship would be named after the city, so to pay homage, I assigned the Grim Reapers to the Annapolis. To further pay homage to my home I named the pilot, Thomas O’Malley, after, then, state govenor Martin O’Malley. I wanted to tie real world names and places into the background without going full on fanfic, but just enough for people to sink their teeth into when looking at the finished piece.”
You could even go right out of the box with your idea or back-story. Let’s look at the 2015 Gunpla Builders World Cup winner from Thailand, Win Eiam Ong’s (AKA the Paint Pusher) ‘another late night’.
He takes ordinary MG Epyon and MG Wing kit (with a few bits from others), and turns it into a diorama of a battle, carved out of wood by an artist, set in the ‘build fighters’ universe. It’s a theme, within a theme with minimal canon, no pilot, no focus on the mechs even, but the entire back-story is expressed in the work itself without any need for explanation. Conceptually, it’s right out-there, even meta-physical in a way and it’s a great example of taking a completely different approach to creating a back-story. Win’s idea came right out of the idea of no constraint to the expectation, which landed him the top prize in the mecha modelling world – do don’t feel like you ever have to be restrained by the model’s inherent purpose. Win explains this really well here, I urge you to have a read!
As always, I want to ask you, do you find having a back-story helps in your creative process, or do you not bother at all and just paint what you feel like painting? Ever become dangerously obsessed with your back-story and extended it into a full fan-fiction? Got any helpful hints or tips as to how to come up with a theme or back-story? I love to hear from you folks, so please, spill your brains and share your thoughts!