Oct 6
Robodaz

Available from Hobbylink Japan

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Greatness Denied…

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Chang Wah-Ming is not a name that many outside Trekkdom will know, and today there may even be a few Trekkers who might be puzzled at the name.

However, without the genius of Wah-Ming, we would not have quite the vision of Star Trek TOS that we do today, for this man provided many of the models and props which have become so classic today.

Wah-Ming was always an artistc child it seems, who could always be found sketching clients at his mother’s Ho Ho Tea Rooms in San Fransisco, which was something of a haven for artists in the city. He would be in there every day, doodling out both the patrons themselves and the landscapes of his own imagination freely and without concern, secure in a love for art.

Things might have gone on like that, had not his mother died, leaving the young Wah-Ming in the care of a friend of the family, the noted local professional, J. Blanding Sloan.

From the age of 15, Wah-Ming was introduced to the world of film-making, as Sloan helped his adopted son build a career out of his talent. He is noted as being the youngest modeler inducted to the Disney effects dept. where he worked on master models for both Bambi and Pinocchio (wooden character models which assisted the many artists working on the film in maintaining the same look).

After this, Wah-Ming’s resume encompasses some of the best in film and television: Cleopatra, The Time Machine, The King and I, The Outer Limits, Planet of the Apes, Spartacus, and The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, among many more.

He became associated with Gene Roddenberry in 1964, when he was engaged to create props for the first pilot episode of Star Trek, The Cage – including the Talosian’s heads and the crew laser pistols.

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When the series was given a ‘second chance,’ Wah-Ming was drawn back in and created a number of truly legendary props for the series:

The Tricorder:

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The Communicator:

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The Phaser:

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NOTE: Whilst Wah-Ming is oft cited as being the designer of the Phaser, it seems to be the case that after his own cage laser pistol was rejected for filming in Where No Man Has Gone Before, he assisted Walter Jefferies in refining the design we ultimately get in the series…

Then… There is the Tribble!

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Someone had to design them, after all…

All very cool, you will admit, but there is a dark side to all this… and the reason why so few seem to know the truth behind the great man’s work.

The truth is, Chang was not credited for this work on the series for a very long time, owing to the effects of a dispute with the prop-maker’s union. As the production of Star Trek was being managed by a union shop, there was no way that Gene or Jefferies could directly hire Chang to make props. In addition, Chang was barred from the union (for reasons which pass my understanding). As Wah-Ming’s work was, as you can see above, of truly ‘Master Level,’ the production team developed something of a con: they quietly shipped the specs to Chang, and then simply bought finished items from the designer’s established stock.

This worked rather well in the first season, but it still raised the ire of the union shop, who questioned why their own work was being side-lined in favor of a stream of ‘off the peg’ models which seemed to be both of unusually high quality and simultaneously ‘just what the script desired.’

After a little digging, the union cottoned on to the ruse and demanded that the association between Chang and Trek be severed and his props not used again.

Thus we get to the saga of my favorite ship – and what happened to it…

Hunter of the Heavens

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For the episode Balance of Terror, Chang was commissioned to create a small, sleek hunter of a spaceship which, with an invisibility cloak, would stalk the Enterprise through the stars like a submarine in the deeps.

Wah-Ming took the flying saucer design and streamlined it, hooking into the avian qualities which he found in the rough draft of the script (and the Romulans presented therein).

He created the original model, with interior lighting in a few weeks, from plaster, chip-board, and plastic.

NOTE: Though Chang mastered the model, the paintwork (silver body and hawk motif on the underside) was applied by the studio painters.

Only one set of shots was made of the model when finished and used for both Balance of Terror and the later episode, The Deadly Years.

There might have been further appearances planned, but by the end of the first season, the model-maker’s union dispute had made it impossible for the Trek Team to work further with Chang, and the Bird of Prey model was returned to him, allegedly without the agreed payment for his work.

This brings us to the (possible) fate of the ship, which has not been seen since the 1960s. Supposedly disgusted by his treatment, Wah-Ming is said to have destroyed the Romulan ship, along with other props…

Which might explain why the Romulans returned with Klingon vessels in the later Enterprise Incident episode.

However, there are other theories, some of which speak of a private sale, and a safe deposit box somewhere…

A pipe-dream, maybe, but you never know…

And should any Trekker out there know the truth… Comments below! 😉

The Build

I do not really know what to say here. This really was the simplest build I have undertaken in a long time.

I have had 1/35 figure models with more components than this. 😀

Do not take this as an insult though. This is a great little model.

It is cleanly molded, suffers from no warping, and has detail which is far crisper than the only other easily available BoP model* (the AMT 1/650 scale version), as well as being far more close to the dimensions of the shooting model (narrower wing-span, better hull tapering, proper portholing, and so on).

*In truth, there is also the AW Studios 1/350 Vac-formed kit, but I’m not going to risk another one of those having wrecked one already… Vac form models and I do not get along for some reason.

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I’d like to add some details here which might suggest modeling skills, but….. seriously. This one might as well build itself.

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Even without the paint, she looks a proper menace, does she not?

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I’m going against the type here… The model for filming was silver in color, but for some odd reason, I have an indelible memory of this ship being a muted grey-green, as if it were being filmed under water. That is the scheme I am going to work up here.

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A little black for some pre-shading – note that we are exactly 25 mins into the build at this point. ;)

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And with Tamiya Cockpit Green, cut 35% paint to 75% X20A thinner, it still only took four coats to give the ship the lovely, even look above.

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The kit includes two sets of decals for the hull sides. I rather borked up the set that was designed to be painted (or drilled out) and had to go with the black panel versions. Still looks fine, though.

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This was a scary thing for me. On my AMT Bird of Prey, the decals more or less disintegrated the moment I put them into water. Here though, even the large hawk decal went on without much trouble – though I did spray down the hull with Mr. Hobby Mark Setter first, which allowed me to shuffle the thing about for more than a minute before I was happy with the placement.

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I used Tamiya Clear Green on the inside of the engine nacelle caps. I actually filled the things up and left the them overnight to dry. In the morning, the front of the caps were solid color, whilst the sides were almost transparent. A very nice effect.

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I thought about drilling out the portholes, but I do not think I have a steady enough hand…

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All in all, and all humor aside, I am naming this my favorite model, bar none. It may be small, and it may be simplistic, but it is the best version of the BoP I have laid hands to thus far.

I hope, one day to get hold of a 1/350 injection molded version from Polar Lights, of course, but till then…

“We are creatures of duty Captain… I have lived my life by it… Just one more duty to perform… Mr. Hobby UV Cut Matte coating!” 😉

Dr. Robodaz

 

Comments

  1. Thank you for the very interesting write up about Chang Wah-Ming, I had no idea that there was a union for Prop Makers and the politics that could surround it.

    • I had no idea who he even was for years – even hanging around with dedicated Trekkers much of my youth. Only when I picked up some more detailed literature about the series did I get even a mention of his name.

      All model makers should know his name.

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