The last time I visited an IPMS (International Plastic Modellers Society) show was 20 years ago. Then it took place at the NAC - a decent size for it's time.
Now it occurs at the Telford International Centre and is HUGE.
When I say huge, I mean huge on a European model show style. For railway modellers, think twice the size of Warley's NEC event. I walked around in a slight daze for half an hour just trying to get my head around the sheer scale of the event. By the time I'd reached the end of hall 3, I'd worked out it was big and had some sort of plan to take it all in.
Like all model shows there are displays and traders. Displays involve tables full of (mostly) beautifully made miniatures. The modellers don't just shake the box the kit came in and splodge it together with a tube of glue. Most models have been carefully upgraded thanks to the efforts of the cottage industry suppliers who support the main kitmakers.
It's not all plastic either - lots and lots of resin and photo etched bits and even complete kits are available. Plastic predominates though and there were people pushing things out of injection moulding machines that I'd never heard of. That's a surprise as I'd always assumed that the tooling costs would be too great for short run, limited edition products. Presumably when you have a world-wide audience then the economics change massively. Certainly one of the people on the Tamiya stand was making this case. Wheat we consider a big seller in the UK is insignificant in the US - something railway modellers need to remember when moaning about the cost of the latest RTR compared to that across the pond.
To have a rest, I took in a couple of lectures after lunch. The first by Trevor Snowden covered how Airfix picks prototypes and goes about tooling up for the kits they produce. We were shown different kits parts mastered using pantograph and then various spark erosion technologies so we could understand the difference between the methods of mould making. There were plans to see, a full-sized Nimrod intake and the real Airfix drawing for a Hurricane. Plastic modelling history being passed around for us to handle. There were a few behind the scenes snippets as well. The 1:72nd TSR2 was a limited edition but not quite as limited as everyone thinks - but it lead on the the 1:48 version. Also, the 1:24 Mosquito has made the company a decent return. It seems that bigger kits are more profitable than the small ones.
Next up was Hideyuki Shigeta, President of Zoukei Mura, a plastic kit manufacturer I had read about on-line but never seen in the styrene. His presentation, in Japanese with translation by one of his sons, told the story from his rise from owning a model shop to manufacturing superb quality kits. Always an aircraft enthusiast, he had always dreamed of producing kits that were assembled in the same way as the real 'plane. Looking at the results, he's certainly done this with internal detail that has to be seen to be believed. Doubtless there will be people moaning at the cost, around £130 for a Mustang for example, but if you want the best and wish to enjoy many hours assembly then I can see why you'd be happy to dip a hand in the pocket. This isn't a five minute job, more like building a very good model locomotive. I thoroughly enjoyed the talk and am very tempted by a kit now, and I'm not interested in aircraft.
The Q&A session at the end with prizes of t-shirts or books. I bagged the book on the Shinden pusher plane, an experimental Japanese aircraft invented at the end of the war, too late to make any difference. This was great as it looks terrific and I love unusual and experimental machines. I asked why his shop was called "Volks". Apparently after the Volkswagen he and his wife drove around in. I then suggested that would make a fantastic subject for a kit. I'd buy one.
Sadly, the prize aspect provided an embarrassment. During the Airfix talk, a husband and wife were sat in the row behind me. During the break, he moved forward and sat one seat away. She joined him, flopping between us. Fortunately the bag of kits I had stored under the empty chair survived her kick. During the lecture she read some trashy "reality" magazine with articles like "I woke up on the operating table during my boob job" and generally ignored the speaker. Until the end, then she spotted the t-shirts emblazoned with the Mura logo. 3 times her hand went up to ask a question and every time one of the other 40 people in the room were picked, she grumbled loudly to her husband. Eventually, persistence won and some question was asked - I can't remember what it was, something about Mrs Shigeta I think - and once answered there was then negotiation over the t-shirt size and colour. I think the thing went back 3 times before she was happy. I wanted to shout, "For God's sake, it's free. Just take it and let the man carry on!". I just felt that the guy had flown over from Japan, ended up in Telfrod of all places and was then confronted by someone more interested in a freebie than listening to the entertaining talk. Good job everyone else was rather more interested in the subject...
Tradewise, I was looking for interesting modelling tools and materials. Despite this, I came away with a couple of kits. Prices were very reasonable and the range incredible. Yes there were expensive models, I'd have come away with a Zero-X kit for a 3-figure sum but there was loads at a fiver too. I can see that as a shopping trip, Telford could supply the keen plastic modeller with a years worth of projects. You get all the big manufacturers showing such as Airfix, Tamiya, Humbrol and Revell and a host of smaller names. Too many to list here!
The displays were great and some had really travelled. I'm not going to try and describe them. I took photos for that and even then they don't really do the models justice. One highlight was a set of converted Airfix Wallace & Gromits & Shaun the sheep models.
A tenner entry fee resulted in 6 hours happy browsing. Not bad value for money. I think I'll go back next year.
My IPMS photos on Flickr.