Sitting on the shelf of many Star Trek fans since their grade school days is AMT’s 18 inch model of the original USS Enterprise. Since the kit first graced hobby store shelves in the late 1960s, a great many dreams of commanding one’s own starship were fulfilled, even if only in styrene dreams. While several companies hold rights to produce Star Trek model kits (Revell in Europe, Moebius in North America for the Kelvin Timeline ships), it is the inheritor of the AMT legacy, Round 2 Models, that has the broadest offering of subjects for fans to build. And Jamie Hood, senior designer and brand manager for the Polar Lights and AMT lines at Round 2, is keen to see that succession of plastic goodness continue.
Trek kits have pretty consistent sales; they are winners. But the launch of Star Trek: Discovery brought a new challenge. “Discovery is harder to wrap our minds around, because, by its nature, there are a few new challenges in place,” says Hood. “We see this fandom trend of ‘bash it before you see it’ arising, and then people pile on. No one feels like they can follow through and consume a product like this and let their opinion be changed based upon what is delivered.” But that’s not all. “The paywall complicates things. People will either pay for it, or they won’t. Those that don’t watch CAN’T form an attachment to it. Then the ones that DO see it will either love it or they won’t.” And loving or hating the show translates into risk/reward side of developing models based on any new series.
With Discovery a success both domestically and abroad, Hood began the work to develop models drawn from the new series. “Regardless of how it was received, one thing we felt the show had something going for it. The strong designs we saw in all three ships,” says Hood, referring to the Discovery, the Shenzhou, and the Enterprise. Last June, Round 2 announced 1:2500 scale kits to support the series, the first of which – the Discovery – is available NOW, The Shenzhou will follow around mid-summer. Hood anticipates the Enterprise, present as a pre-production test shot, rounding out the initial offerings by the end of the summer or early fall.
With the 1:2500 scale effort well in hand, Hood shared with us that Round 2 was carefully considering the next step. “We are hoping to bring forward a larger scale kit from Discovery in 2020,” said Hood. While he has heard the fans and has some of his own thoughts about what would make for a great kit, a decision won’t be made for a few months yet on which subject will get the larger treatment – However, the probable scale would be in the 1:1000 range.
If this is indeed the case, some interesting possibilities could open up for modellers. A 1:1000 U.S.S. Enterprise from Discovery, for example, would measure in about an inch shorter than the classic AMT kit. Side-by-side displays? Many fans would say, “Yes, please!” If a 1:1400 kit was produced, the estimated length would be about 12 ½” which falls in line size-wise with Polar Lights’ TOS U.S.S. Enterprise and Enterprise Refit kits in 1:1000 scale.
Hood acknowledges the fan feedback he receives on possible subjects and scales and recognizes that the holes perceived by Round 2 don’t always match up with what the most vocal fans ask for. “We sometimes get requests for a Voyager in 1000 scale, and for the Oberth and Reliant in 350,” Hood shares. As a fan, he has things he would love to see, but as a brand manager and designer, he recognizes that there are a lot of variables to take into account.
So where is the Star Trek line heading? Let’s start by looking at the 1:350 scale kits. Hood noted the success of the three existing kits – the refit Enterprise, the TOS Enterprise, and the Klingon K’T’inga. Strong sellers (the Klingon ship, for example, appeared to be sold out from all dealers at WonderFest by 1 PM on Saturday), there is clearly craving for more large-scale Trek. “I think we’ve perfected the art of the 350 scale with our recent releases,” he shares, “and I think we would like to explore a large format release every few years.”
One of the elements that serve to make the larger scale popular is the option to light them. Round 2 released specific kits with the 1:350 TOS and Klingon ships. While Hood shared some challenges with the TOS light rigs initially, the Klingon lighting kit has been very well received and dialled in with fewer problems. “The K’T’inga is a simple light kit,” says Hood. “They are simpler to develop, easier to build. With fewer components, it is easier to handle quality control.”
While re-pops of classic kits such as the 1400 scale Enterprise D and the 537 scale Refit remain, steady sellers, Hood admits that Round 2 is thin on existing tooling. So what does that mean in terms of additional subjects?
“The Enterprise has wide name recognition,” acknowledges Hood. And there happens to be an Enterprise that is beloved in design standing by for a modelling rework. “A 1000 scale Enterprise D would be interesting, and you have a lot you could do with it,” he observes. “An ‘All Good Things’ dreadnought add-on, or using it as the basis for a Nebula class like the Phoenix… there are options there.” Indeed there are, as the AMT model has been widely criticized for inaccuracies going back to the first release. “It would give us a chance to revisit this beloved ship and get her as accurate as possible, within the constraints of our production process and the medium.”
And the D is not the only Enterprise that might be worthy of some love. The recent reissue of the refit Enterprise in 537 scale has resulted in steady sales, in spite of the frequent bemoaning of what happened to the kit before it was released for Star Trek II. If sales remain steady, and demand constant for similar scale kit remains vocal, a new kit isn’t out of the realm of possibility. But Hood stated, “It isn’t as simple as just retooling the old AMT kit but with a smooth surface. That kit had a ton of other flaws and inaccuracies as well. Once you start looking at it, it becomes a case of ‘Okay, where do we stop?’ If you look too far into it, you’ll probably find it will require additional parts as well.” Hood went on to add “I don’t like the box scale either, which it only shares with the Reliant and the Klingon Cruiser.” Hood puzzles with the question “So what would we do? Perhaps a 1/500 or 1/600? Maybe 1/700 since that is a naval modelling scale”. He went on to mention “So it isn’t just a simple retool. It becomes its own all-new kit.” Don’t start saving your money for that kit just yet, though. Any tooling of a mid-scale Refit is still just a concept at this point. But a new kit would make use of more accurate renderings and better construction techniques than the old AMT refit.
One essential element to the future of Trek modelling is sustaining and growing the base of modellers. “It’s tough to grow a younger base,” Hood observed. “At one time, a dad taught his kid how to build a model in the garage; but we’ve skipped a generation. Now it’s grandparents who are building and will need to hand this hobby on. Many modellers say ‘We need to get more kids into the hobby.’ I say ‘give me some 30-year olds.’ People are taking up ‘cleaner’ hobbies these days where they don’t need to get their hands dirty and they don’t want their kids to make a mess either.”
Feeding the challenges with developing the hobby for the future is the decline of hobby shops and the inability to find everything needed to build a model at once. Observes Hood, “It’s not just about the kit… the bigger obstacle is the other material you need – paints and glues; you have to find those things available right along with a kit.”
For a while, gone too (it seemed) were the days of finding models on the shelves of big-box retailers, but Round 2 has been working with Wal Mart to alleviate some of that. Last fall, the company placed 250 pallets into the retailer’s locations across the United States. Each location’s manager had to order in a pallet, which featured Star Trek, Space:1999, and other kits; together with the supplies needed to make a basic build. Hood sees 300 pallets heading out for the 2019 holiday shopping season with plans to include more supplies so that aspiring modellers will have access to what they need for assembly and presentation.
“I’m not satisfied until the modellers are satisfied,” says Hood. While it may be impossible to please everyone, Round 2 has set its course forward. As always, only time will tell where the course may lead.