Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Interview with Tony Hanna - Model Maker

Last year I published an article on the history of the Leyland P76 in diecast, for the National P76 Magazine which is issued every two years to coincide with the P76 Nationals. The article was well received, and one of the most interesting aspects of preparing it was talking to Tony Hanna, the model maker who designed the model for Trax. With his permission, I am placing the interview on my blog for all people interested in diecast to get a feel of the process involved in delivering a car from concept to market, from the model makers perspective. 

Tony Hanna Interview 

How long have you been involved with diecast models ?

I’ve been a freelance model builder since the 1960’s. I've spent about 15 years with Trax. The first model I did for them was the 1:24 scale FJ Holden. My trade is as a hand letterer, so I suppose I am pretty good at making exact copys of things.

Recently I have been working with John Pisani (of Models 56) and if you saw the GTR-X, the FC Holden, the McCormack Charger and the Bartlett Camaro, those were mine. I’ve got my own company ‘Modelcraft Miniatures’ and I will be producing the ‘Captain Nitrous’ FJ Holden drag car, the Broadspeed Mini and the Holden Hurricane in the near future.

How did you become involved with the Trax Leyland P76 ?

Rob Hill (owner of Trax) said we would do the P76. We went over to Joe Greens house and measured his cars and took photos. I think Rob knew of Joe Green through their wives who both had an interest in art. Anyway we ended up over at Joe Greens one afternoon and used his cars as the reference for the P76.

(Joe Green is a major figure in the Leyland movement, and also owns the Force 7 that Trax based their 2010 resin release on)
P76 Super in Bold as Brass yellow

What is the process involved in creating a diecast model ?

Well you start by doing the research. Locating a car, or several taking lots of photos and making measurements. Then you rough it out by scaling the photos onto clear film. The three measurements I work from are 1:1, 1:21.5 and 1:43. 

You make a rough body shape mould in1:21.5 scale out of Styrofoam and plastibond, as close as possible to the car you are working from. You go over and over and over, sanding it down and looking at it from every angle. I use typically 80-100 photos of the car from every angle. Slowly you work the rough mould down until you are happy.

The body shape mould then, in the case of the P76, went back and forth between Robert, Joe and myself until everyone was happy. Sometimes measurements aren’t perfect and a little bit of artistic licence is required. 

The body shape mould is in 1:21.5 which is twice the size of the finished 1:43 model. It is a solid shape with door lines, windows etc. This mould then goes to China where it is copied in plastic in 1:21.5. This then comes back to Trax, where we can make corrections and compared with the body shape mould and photos. It then gets sent back to China when Trax are satisfied.

At the model factory in China it then gets pulled apart again and CAD Cammed using spark eroding equipment (basically measuered by lasers and fed into a computer) into whatever scale you want. For the Leyland it was 1:43. 

These measurements in the computer are then used to make the moulds. One platen is made for the metal components, the body, bonnet, boot and doors and one for the plastic parts – the interior and the glass. Being in the computer, you can make the car in whatever scale you like now. 

With the new moulds, a tooling run is done first, and these turn out a few cars which are assembled and measured. They can airfreight these things back to Trax overnight, and of course everything is email and digital photos these days as well. Once Trax are happy with the patterns, they are case hardened. These are the moulds which will be used in production.

When you are making a car, you have to book your slot in with the Chinese factory a few months in advance. Typically a car will take from 4 to 6 weeks to make, but sometimes it can take longer. Once the moulds are complete and the plastic and metal parts are being made, they are then fettled. This involves taking sprue and casting flash off. The parts are put into big barrels and tumbled to get the rough edges off. They are then painted and assembled in various phases. The Chinese also do all the packaging. 

What happens when there are problems with a car, like an incorrect detail or trim etc?

Once Trax has signed off on a model, the cars that come back are 99% the same as what was signed off on. The Chinese do everything casting, fettling, painting and packaging. I do recall the 1:24 XA Falcon GT in Purple with white interior arrived at Trax with black door trims. They were all sent back to China and replaced with white door trims.  

Have you ever visited the Chinese model factories?

No I had the opportunity to visit one of the factories, Hongwell, where they make the Cararama models a few years ago with Robert, but I didn’t go. 
Is making diecst models a passion or a job ?

A passion! For stuff I like anyway! Sometimes its just a job, when I work on cars I don’t really like. Then again, when I started on the Trux buses they were just a job, but now I love them.

How do you go about making sure the really fine detail is captured when you are working in small scales such as 1:43 ?

I go to my photos and say it’s a badge, I will copy into Adobe Illustrator and blow it up 16 times. Then reduce it to the scale I need, first 1:21.5 and then 1:43. Those sorts of things are largely decals not cast parts. 

When making a model, sometimes there has to be compromises between accuracy and human perspective. Were there any compromises on the P76 model ?

I don’t recall. I know it was a totally new model. When I did the HR and HD models, I did the HD first and got a few things wrong, mainly around the windows. When the HR came out using the same basic pattern, somehow the Chinese had got it wrong and it was slightly warped. The P76 is fine though.

Was it a conscious design decision to make the Trax model with a separate headlight grill part so that Trax could use the P76 pattern to build a Deluxe single headlight version in the future  ?

Not by me, I think it was always going to be a twin headlight model. 

Once the model is accepted by Trax, how much input do you have into colour selection ?

Colour selection is 60% me, 40% Trax. Robert selected the first three colours. I do all the artwork for them though. I know Robert doesn’t like letting the first cars go out with the best colours.

Advertisement in Trax catalogue from 2004 for the release of the first three P76 models from Trax. The same casting has been used as recently as 2010.

Did you work on the Targa Florios ?

I did the artwork for them yes.

What about the mag wheels ?

I don’t do wheels, the Chinese have a wheel guy. When I work on the master body mould, I usually just have four discs where the wheels go.

How did you feel when Trax proclaimed the P76 release a dud and dumped their stock of cars at firesale prices ?

What can I do! Its their stock. I think that the decision to do the Targa, and those were sold out I believe, justifys the decision by Trax to do the P76.

Do you still have any of the Trax P76’s ?

Yes I still have the first three cars and one of the Targas.

Thanks for your time Tony. 

Talking to Tony Hanna was a fascinating experience, and his info helped me in researching the article published in the P76 National Magazine. That article will be published on this blog after a major revision, as some new information on the P76 diecast model history has only just come to light! 

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