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Behind The Scenes at Round 2, Part I: How a Star Trek Scale Model Gets Made

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For the better part of the last decade, Round 2 has owned the North American rights to manufacture and release scale models based on the Star Trek franchise. TrekMovie now takes you behind the scenes at Round 2 in this two part series to learn more about the process, and to give you a look at future releases.

On a stormy July morning, I arrived in South Bend, Indiana, in a non-descript industrial part of town. With rain pelting down, I entered the doors of Round 2, the license holder for Star Trek modeling in the United States and Canada. There I met with Jamie Hood who, among his various duties, shepherds the Star Trek model line.

We had a chance to talk about the history of Star Trek modeling, and took a look at some future plans.

The History of Star Trek Models
Trek fans in the know are probably aware that AMT (Aluminum Model Toys), a leading model manufacturer in the 1960’s, obtained the rights to produce kits for the new Star Trek television series through a bit of a swap. AMT helped to design and build the exterior filming prop for the Galileo shuttlecraft. In exchange, the familiar 18 inch (1:650 scale) Enterprise appeared on shelves – first in a lit version, and ultimately in the version that fans from the 70’s through the 90’s came to know and either love or hate.

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The 1:650 scale AMT Enterprise

Later, as AMT was looking to capitalize on the blockbuster sales of the Enterprise model, an account executive at AMT gave suggestions to Matt Jefferies as he embarked on the design of the Klingon Battlecruiser. Soon, the Battlecruiser hit the shelves, and eventually the line flourished with figures, props, and ship models… some accurate, some not so much so.

After nearly 30 years, Revell-Monogram outbid AMT for the rights to produce ships from Star Trek: Voyager, and so began the decline for AMT’s line, which finally wrapped in 1999.

In the early 2000’s, the Playing Mantis company, under the Polar Lights trade dress, released a 1:1000 USS Enterprise, as well as a 1:1000 Klingon Battlecruiser, and a model of the Romulan Scorpion ship from Star Trek: Nemesis. The Enterprise and the Battlecruiser were good sellers, and ultimately Playing Mantis was sold to new owners. Over time, however, Tom Lowe, the founder of Playing Mantis, began buying back rights to the line, and ultimately formed Round 2 after buying back the vast majority of the catalog.

In Europe, the rights are currently owned by Revell of Germany. Other companies own various rights in other parts of the world, though they often simply license the kits produced by one of the major rights-holders.

What It Takes to Get a Model on Your Workbench
What does it take to bring your favorite starship from idea to your shelf? A lot of work that spans the globe.

With Round 2 being the exclusive rights-holder for all Prime Universe Star Trek kits in the US and Canada, they have a degree of self-determination in planning their release schedules. Releases are planned based on customer demand, practicality, and the limited budget dedicated to the line.

As Jamie explains, the Round 2 company oversees multiple product lines, including die cast toys, slot cars, a line of ‘Forever Fun’ products, and model kits from various genres and eras.

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The master wall of Trek products in the Round 2 Development offices

Within the modeling division, comprised of five employees, Star Trek is a sliver of a sliver. About half of the kits produced by Round 2 are cars. Only 15% of the company’s catalogue is science fiction, and of that percentage, Star Trek models take up about half of the slots. The lines, of course, continue so long as they are profitable. Which means that one serious miscalculation can have ripple effects on other projects.

As such, the first part of the process is to make a full-year plan for releases. As mentioned, this plan takes into account customer demand, among other factors, while always keeping in mind the need to produce a product that is going to sell well. It also is a time to look at the existing inventory of tools to see what may need reissuing and what can be modified for release as a different kit.

Once a plan is developed, it is presented to corporate leadership. At this point, the projects and timeframes may be adjusted, killed off completely, or moved forward to the next step, which is licensor approval. Next, CGI proposals are submitted to CBS Studios for approval. Round 2 essentially has permission to produce anything except the J.J. Abrams continuity ships. For the most part, there have been no issues on CBS’s end with regard to approval and moving forward.

Usually, direct feedback on kit choices is not given, but a notable exception occurred early on in Round 2’s development of their Star Trek line. A 1:1000 scale model of the Akira-class USS Thunderchild from Star Trek: First Contact was proposed to make a splash as an out of the gate offering. To this day, fans of the Akira class are pained that the model never saw the light of day. Initial development progressed on the Thunderchild, but concerns began to surface about the kit early on. The choice to stop the Akira and focus on other projects was not taken lightly. There were many factors at play.

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The Thunderchild/Akira model that never was

After the decision was made to scrap the Thunderchild kit, Round 2 always felt their choice was the right one. While the ship design was very popular and had a huge following, the Akira wasn’t a ‘hero-ship’. Enterprises, the hero-ships, sell very well. Producing a 1:1000 scale Akira (which would have measured something like 18 to 20 inches) was a major gamble, especially for a first release; one that Round 2 couldn’t be sure would pay off. The rest is history: instead of an Akira class model, a 1:1000 kit of the Refit Enterprise from Star Trek: The Motion Picture hit the market and has remained a strong seller ever since.

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The Refit Enterprise model that came to fruition after the Thunderchild was tabled

After CBS grants licensing approval for a project, detailed CGI work begins so that a final set of specifications can be delivered to the factory for quotes. During this CGI work, experts are consulted about issues, concerns, or obscure details. Sometimes rare reference photos (at times from private collections) are made available to Jamie and his team to get the details as authentic as possible, within the limitations of injection molded plastic.

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A large steel mold that has been tooled for pressing models. This is representative of a standard mold used in the industry. Depending on the model, several of these molds may be necessary.

Once the factory bid for production has been accepted, the fine points of pricing are worked out, and the factor does a 3D render of the parted kit. At this stage, one can virtually assemble the model to ensure all parts fit and that the model is an accurate representation of the design submitted. This process typically takes two to three months. Once completed, the factory then takes the approved 3D files and produces a rapid prototype, not out of styrene, but out of resin. These parts are then sent to Round 2, where they are evaluated for fit and accuracy. If necessary, ill-fitting parts or inaccurate details are revised, potentially leading to a new prototype (or just a new part). Once the prototype meets Round 2’s approval, it is then submitted to CBS for final approval before the molds are prepared.

The tooling process comes next, in which sold steel blocks are channeled and cut through a long etching process akin to electrolysis. The process takes about six weeks. After that is concluded, ‘test shots’ are sent back to Round 2 for buildup. These are the first actual injection molded kits produced for a release, and are evaluated for fit, and used to generate final instructions. A test shot usually goes to a professional builder for construction, painting, and decaling, so that the actual model can appear on the box. Overall, the ‘test shot’ phase runs about two months.

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One of the hundreds of pressings of a legacy model (in this case, the Vorcha from the original, unaltered molds) that Round 2 keeps in case there is a need for reference in the future.

Once the actual fit of the models and quality of the decals is assured from the ‘test shot’, final samples are produced in actual packaging and sent for final approval. Then actual manufacturing in bulk begins. From there, a few months can pass – depending on shipping times – meaning that models can easily take a year from concept to shelf.

Join us next week for the second part of our visit to Round 2, as we learn more about what sells, and what the future holds for the Star Trek line.



 

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Very interesting article. As someone who has done (and sometimes still does) a lot of model building, this was a great look behind the scenes.

For those who seek an Akira kit, I was pleased with Starcraft’s model, available at federationmodels.com.

It’s a resin kit which will need some special work (not to mention a facemask), but looks wonderful with a 1:1400 fleet.

Great stuff. Always fun to see behind the scenes for kits & collectibles.

Definitely great stuff! We, as Star Trek modelers, are so very lucky to have Round 2 and Jamie Hood on our side. It was cool in the late 60’s and early 70’s to have access to Star Trek models, even though back then, accuracy was NOT a concern. But what a great deal we get now!
Thanks again to Round 2, Tom Lowe, and Jamie Hood. You guys are making the modeling life a LOT more interesting. And fun….

While it was a nice article, Mr. Lyons stated on his facebook account that the cancellation of the 1:1000 Akira was a complicated story, and we would be “glad” that it wasn’t produced.
From what I read, it wasn’t a complicated story. Sales numbers seem to be the only concern. They didn’t want a slow seller to damage their plans for the next several years. While this is understandable from a business standpoint, it in no way makes me glad it wasn’t produced.
I have PLENTY of Enterprises. I was hoping for something new and different.

What’s the word on that 1/32 shuttlecraft Galileo? Big splash at Wonderfest last year; suspicious silence this year.

I was on the edge of buying the Polar Lights Enterprise kit years back, but the nuTrek enterprise design was so different.

Essentially, the thought the series was departing from my beloved classic ideal, to a style that I disliked, made me second think the purchase, and actually made me take another look at the whole Enterprise itself.

1:500 Uss Vengeance Please.

We would like to see a large scale and accurate original series Shuttlecraft kit, too.

Polar Lights is working on a larger scale–and much more accurate–kit of the Shuttlecraft Galileo, Thomas.

(6) Round 2 only has the licence for the Original Timeline, not the JJ Abrams Timeline.

In fact Round 2 was working on a JJ Enterprise but they had to stop and I don’t recall if we were told why, but now we know.
I’ve got my 1 of 1701 TOS 1/350th scale Enterprise that I hope to get started soon. I’m happy with most of the models that have come and like the new one in the 1/2500th scale. I would like to see something from Voyager, like the U. S. S. Voyager in 1/1000th and 1/350th scales, but they have done anything from that era yet….

Glad to see this behind the scenes report! I wish Round 2 had the rights for the JJ-verse. Maybe we’d have a good styrene USS Kelvin by now. But then even that could have gone the way of the Akira class. Would love to have a large scale kit of the Kelvin!

The first AMT model of the Klingon ship was released during the third season of “TOS”. I remember the local JC Penney selling a two-pack of the Enterprise and Klingon ship (in big boxes) for about four bucks. That’s how I first heard about Lincoln Enterprises – they put an insert inside the kit’s box. By the way, AMT released a fairly rinky-dink “Galileo” model in (IIRC) 1976. And very rinky-dink models of the phaser, communicator and tricorder in 1975.

Look. I get it TM. If you don’t want me to post. Just put in red above the message posting area.

Previously….

I was considering the Polar Lights Enterprise until the makers of nuTrek made me reconsider the classic design.

Great article!
I remember buying the AMT version in the mid 70s.
I lived (still reside) in a small town in southern Ontario.
We had a catalog store called Consumers Distributing who carried the Enterprise.
I called everyday for weeks asking if they had stock! Their catalog number was D2468. I still remember.
I burned through 5 or 6 Exploration sets. I was crushed when I discovered the phase and communicator and tricorder werent to scale.
I eagerly await the Part 2.

test..

STAR TREK BEYOND BREAKING NEWS: Justin Lin Videos (some bridge/actor shots)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hiIVIW8hi4I

Is there anyone that will professionally assemble and paint these models? I’d kill to have a perfect version of the Enterprise Refit kit.

Great piece.

18. Mantastic
“Is there anyone that will professionally assemble and paint these models?”

Check out http://scifimodelaction.com/ I believe Boyd , who runs the site, takes commissions.

“Is there anyone that will professionally assemble and paint these models? I’d kill to have a perfect version of the Enterprise Refit kit.”

Look up TrekWorks over on YouTube. That guy does amazing work for a fee. I’m not sure what it is but I’m pretty sure you won’t have to kill someone for it. :-)

@ 18, There are, however I’m not sure where. I think you might find someone at starshipmodeler.com or culttvman.com

More evidence of no Shatner in Beyond

“appears in three movies this year (but not Star Trek 3 although he’d “love for them to find a way of including me”);

http://www.news.com.au/entertainment/celebrity-life/william-shatner-reveals-his-ideal-exit-ahead-of-the-australian-tour-of-his-one-man-show-shatners-world/story-fn907478-1227471060391

I truly hope for success and a great movie. However no matter how they twist , turn and explain , this is a real shame.

18. Mantastic
“Is there anyone that will professionally assemble and paint these models?”

It appears that answering that question isn’t allowed on this site. I posted a referral to a site where you might find someone, and said post vanished. [le sigh]

OTOH, if you’d like some tips on how to build these models really well, you might check out this video…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29QtTn_iQVo

21. Tom – August 5, 2015

Agreed, It’s an absolute disgrace.

18. Mantastic
“Is there anyone that will professionally assemble and paint these models?”

To quote the Preacher from Blazing Saddles, “Son… You’re on your own.”

Awesome! Thanks everyone!

So…
Now that more than a week has gone by…
Is there going to be a second part to this article?

Where’s part II??????

Agreed! Where’s part two?

Almost September and still no part II. What gives?

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