Are you a perfectionist in need of a model to thrash the habit out of you? Well then, have I got just the model for you! This model will convince you of two things: (1) perfect is just not possible, and (2) models can still look gorgeous (and slightly gaudy, if you’re honest), even when they are imperfect. Don’t get me wrong, though… I still tried to do my best with this build. I tried to get everything in the right place, symmetrical(-ish), and looking good. I’m not saying that you should just be lazy with your models. Especially this one… this one takes some stamina and focus. But don’t beat yourself up if it’s not perfect. Don’t focus on the individual mistakes. Because, in the end, the whole is much more than the sum of the individual mistakes. I mean parts.
I had been wanting to try out one of Piececool’s models that incorporated beads for a while. I like the way they have been exploring how to expand the models, to think outside the box (though I was never a fan of the plastic-face models). So I was pleased when Piececool US sent me this one to build and review. I reached out to them a while back to ask about a detail on one of the newer models that I wasn’t sure about, and they offered to send me some models for review. After explaining my disclaimers (that I write this blog for the readers, not for getting free models; that I will write an honest review; that I will offer them a chance to respond to any of what I write, but will not change the essence of my review; etc), they agreed and sent me a couple of models. And here I am, finished building this incredibly intricate model.
So, there is a lot going on with this model. So much so that it’s hard to catch all the details, unless you are viewing it in person. And even then, much of it is hidden beneath and behind the various layers that make this up. The core of the model is a dome-like “cap” covered in beautiful filigree. It’s also festooned (for lack of a better word) with beads and both gold and blue butterflies. Spaced out along the bottom edge of the cap are numerous loose dangly parts, that I think of as “bangles,” hanging from rings. There are a pair of small phoenixes on each side of the cap, at the base, and some long flaps hanging down on the sides near the back. These flaps (that kinda look like Goofy’s ears) feature filigree and the first set of bead-core flowers you’ll add to the model. The front of the cap features a large and impressive phoenix, with several layers of plumage, some of which feature beads and remind me somewhat of a peacock. Above and behind this phoenix rests a large… something… absolutely covered in the bead-core flowers, and culminating in a large flower shape made from the beads at the top. More of the small bangles are found throughout the build, but the final detail are the large bangles, with beads on the end of “strings” that hang from larger bangles that hang at the end of “strings” attached to various points around the model.
Taking photos of this model was somewhat challenging, given all the bits of it that are free-hanging and want to dance around. But boy do they make it look impressive, twisting and turning, catching the light in different ways. As I said before, it is gorgeous, but it also crosses the line into gaudy. There’s a bit too much going on at times. That being said, this is based on traditional Chinese wedding garments / headwear, according to the details on the website, so I’m sure it’s over-embellishment is true to the source material.
I would hope that the answer to whether this model is a challenge is clear from the get-go. The answer is yes. Mind you, it does not have a whole lot of overly complicated steps, but it is definitely an endurance build. The majority of the flowers you see in the build require the forming of two layers of petals in a dome / semi-sphere shape. There are just under 70 of those. But the real challenge is keeping your focus while aligning the (seemingly) thousands of tabs and slots in many small and crowded areas. This is not a model for the faint of heart, but if you brave this one, you will reap some gorgeous rewards.
Before we get into the review of the build proper, I’d like to address a few things that will bear considering throughout the build. First thing I’ll mention is that doing a bit of prep work before starting this model is a great option. I got a bunch of little plastic containers (with lids) from my local dollar store, and clipped off all of the “duplicated a ton of times” parts and put them in the containers. I put some masking tape on the lids and wrote down the part numbers. Along this same line, I will suggest that a lot of pre-forming can go a long way. And that’s not to say that you have to completely form parts, but getting some of it out of the way will make things go smoother later on. One great example of this is all the little metal strips that pass through the beads, and then are looped over to secure the beads in place. If you want the tip of the strips to lay more flat to the bead, pre-curving the end of the strip will make it much easier.
And that segues right into the first section of the build, as you put together the dome cap. Take your time to curl out the tips before you start forming the layers of this section… it’s a lot easier than after you’ve joined several of them together. Trust me. Also, don’t worry about trying to hide the tabs on the inside in this section – there is so much layered up over it all that you’ll never notice them. And those strips sticking out make it hard to do that anyways. Oh, and… pay attention to the orange highlighted segments of these layers – it’s important to align them as shown in the diagrams. I almost slipped up on this.
And now we come to the next general advice section for this build. And it’s an extension on the previous one, about pre-forming. Because at this point, I counted out the exact number of blue butterflies (part 6) and gold butterflies (part7) and pre-formed them. In reality, I should have just done them all. Because they are used throughout the build. Similarly, I counted out the exact number of small bangles (part 9) and pre-formed them. Again, many more of these are used throughout the build. And then I tried to count up the total number of the various types of flowers (there are 3 variants) that are used throughout the build – it doesn’t actually give you a number for each one. I failed here in multiple ways – failed to count right, and… you guessed it… I should have just formed them all.
Speaking of forming all the flowers, I should probably mention that I’m talking about the petal layers (parts 11 and 12) and the bead retainer strip (part 10). Strangely, the instructions do not call out how many of each you need to make, but I think that is because you can’t really pre-make them as a unit. The text on the English version of the instructions (which I couldn’t download) says “do not fold or bend the buttonholes here,” which confused the heck out of me at first. But I did figured out that it means that you shouldn’t twist the tabs to secure the flower together – the tabs will pass through another part when mounted, and then you secure them. Anyways, I counted up each variant of the flowers used in the build, though I ended up changing some of the A flowers into C flowers. Anyways, I’ve added the counts in the image below. Be sure to note that the B flowers use white beads. Side-Note: you’ll need an extra part 10 with a white bead later on.
Finally, I’d like to admit to cheating with the flower petals. I bought some air-dry clay and made impressions in it with my dome forming tools. Then I sprayed some black rubber coating on them to protect the parts from being scratched. The idea being that I could just press the parts into the “bowls” I’d created with my dome tools for a quick shaping process. I thought I was being “brilliant” while avoiding spending the money of those expensive metal versions of what I was making for cheaper. It worked, sorta. And not so much. I had to use one size bigger bowl, and the parts kept getting stuck in the form (imagine that, the rubber gripped the parts, who could have guessed?!?!). I had to pry them out, one by one. At least until I broke the bowl thing (uneven bottom + too much pressure). But that turned out for the better, as I could hold it together while forming, then pull it apart to get the part out. Repeated the process with a different size for the other layer of petals. And again when I didn’t like the size of the inner set of petals (made them smaller). I think it was a win, overall, but a learning experience for sure.
So, circling back to where I was before, the next bit of work was putting together the bottom “trim” of the cap, complete with a whole host of the bangles. One annoying thing about the bangles is that they usually end up hanging sideways from what you might want them to. However, you can kinda work around this by positioning them to face towards a certain viewpoint. In this case, I attached most of them “facing” the front-middle, and some “facing” towards the back-middle. Also, I waited to attach them until after I had secured the trim to the cap, because I thought it would be easier that way. And it was, because of something I completely forgot I did! I jumped to the end of the instructions and build the acrylic stand first! It’s really nice to have that finished starting around this point so that you have somewhere to put the partially completed model that doesn’t leave it resting on delicate bits. Anyways, you can hang the bangles however you want, but this was how I did it.
The next step in the build flow is building those little ear-flap things that hang off the back of the brim/trim section. This is the first area where you will actually make use of the flower parts that I discussed prepping earlier, but what I really want to call out here is that these flaps have a bit of curvature to them that is not called out in the instructions at all. The diagram of the second one caught my eye and made me curious, and the photos of the model on the box seemed to confirm my suspicions. Note: the curvature is concave towards the side with the flowers. Also, it seemed to me like the instructions had me attaching the flowers onto the “wrong” side, but as you can see in the end, the flowers face towards the front of the model (as it’s showing from the back).
As for piecing the flowers together and attaching them… well, I chose the next step to use as the basis for the diagram, but this really applies to everywhere you build a flower. Whether it’s an A, B, or C variant, you’ll follow this basic process. And this is why you do not pre-build the flowers. You can pre-form the components of the flowers, but the tabs in part 10 are actually what secures the flower to the model. This makes for an interesting challenge juggling parts and aligning those two tabs to pass through up to 3 layers. And the challenge grows as the flowers start to get crowded together… holding the bead and one or two layers of petals together while trying to line up tabs sticking out the back of a petal layer with slots that you are about to fully block from vision with the flower itself… it’s an interesting challenge. Especially if, like me, you don’t want to mash those petals closed around the bead, instead preferring a more open flower look.
After this step, you get to enjoy building a few of the mythical creatures that give this model it’s name. Four small ones and one really big one. These birds are fairly straight-forward to build, though getting the tabs aligned through the layers of plumage / wings is, of course, it’s own challenge. After securing the two halves of each phoenix together, I used my handy-dandy [dull] hobby knife, wedged between them, to hold them apart enough to slot the tabs into place. A technique that can be used in a lot of places where you have two tabs folded up next to each other that need to pass through slots in close proximity. The four small ones went fairly easily with this approach (though I did have to revise how much I folded the wings outwards after my first attempt). The big one, on the other hand, was a bit more challenging. The spread was larger, and it had to go through more layers.
Speaking of the large phoenix, I took some liberties with it. I chose to curve the long & thin feathers forward, rather than leave them flat or curve them backwards. I like the way it looks, personally, but I don’t know if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. As for the rear layer of plumage, I went overboard and tried to add some side-to-side curvature on each “bundle” of feathers before I curved it all back. Sometimes you can add a lot of mystique to a model, simply by adding in a few extra curves. I should mention, though, that I had the joy of taking this phoenix back apart after “completing” it. Always double-check that you’ve done everything you are supposed to do with something before twisting / securing those tabs. I was so focused on forming the two layers I mentioned above that I completely forgot to include part 28 in the stack.
Now for one of the big features of this model: the flower made of beads. I have just a few things to mention regarding it, but in reality it’s pretty simple to build. First, this is another case of “don’t actually secure the tabs,” once again you will use the tabs from part 10 to secure the entire assembly to the model. Second, I would suggest that you not bother trying to squish it up together like it shows in the instructions. I can’t imagine it would be easy to form without the layers being secured together, so I waited until it was attached. And finally, you’re not going to be able to squeeze it tight and even like it shows in the diagram. The sizes of the beads just don’t work like that.
And now begins the mind-numbing flowering of the tiara-like-thingy that dominates this model. It’s not really that bad, but it does have a lot of repetition, and that repetition lead to a few “mistakes” on my build. And by mistakes, I’m being really nit-picky. Because I tried, throughout this build, to make sure to have consistent alignment of the strips that hold the beads in place. I say tried, because I failed. And I just didn’t have the mental energy to fix the few times I goofed, because there are a lot of flowers in this next section. Oh, and throughout this area, it suggests that you fold the tabs while securing the flowers. Ha. Hahaha. And this is coming from someone who likes to fold tabs when it makes the model look better. So many tabs, so close together, and all will be mostly hidden away… I could have twisted and folded, but that takes even more time. And I know why they said to fold – these panels get mounted back to back, twisted tabs will cause a gap, right? Well, I just decided that I could fold some near the edges if I wanted, but I was going to just deal with it. Like I said, this model will wear down your desire for perfection, haha.
Now, this bit of flowering is where the quarters start getting really tight, and access / visibility become challenging at times. It’s also where I finally decided that I would deviate from the instructions, and introduce a few more instances of the C variant of the flower. I should have done it earlier than I did, because I forged ahead with a few A variants that ended up really wonky because they were just squished so close together with other flowers. So… I’m going to share what I think are good candidate flower locations to switch to variant C. There’s one flower on each of part 31 and 32, and four on part 33, as identified below.
Within this sequence, there is another small bit of advice I would like to suggest. Something I’ve learned in retrospect, having followed the directions and had to fight things to behave. During Step 32, Hold off on attaching the two blue butterflies (part 6) until after you attach the bead-flower. I attached the butterflies first, and then struggled with attaching the flower, then had to lever some of the beads of the flower around butterfly wings, while trying to distribute the beads evenly in the flower shape. It was quite frustrating. I don’t really feel like the bead-flower would interfere with the process of attaching the butterflies.
After you’ve assembled the main mass of the tiara-thingy, you build the “support” for it, which is surprisingly fragile. I rather wish they had made this part a little more rigid and strong. I mean, it works, but I struggled with it a bit. The three main parts of it are held together with just four tabs, and even using a twist-and-fold approach, it still felt really loose and unstable. Of course, I’m identifying the problem without providing a solution – because I’m not a model designer, so I can imagine there were reasons for the way this was done. But for something that’s holding up so much weight… I wish they had done a little more. Then comes the fun of trying to align the tabs that attach the support to the frame to the tiara thingy. Even when you do, finding and securing the tabs through the forest of flowers on the front is not so simple.
After securing the tiara thingy to the “cap” (good lord, I’m using a lot of accurate technical terms, aren’t I?), I ended up fighting with the support again. It took me some time to get the tiara to sit level and straight without the support looking all wonky from the back. So… just a warning. Or maybe I did something wrong.
And that brings us to the final components of the build, ones that took a bit more time than I expected them to take. I seriously thought I would be able to knock these out in no time at all. I couldn’t have been farther than the truth. But can you blame me? It doesn’t look that challenging, forming up these dangly bits. Yeah, you do it 10 times, but that didn’t seem that bad. Well, as I discovered, you can quickly make a simple process take forever. Which I did. Because I am who I am.
Okay, so… first of all, the process itself is pretty time consuming, as it’s a completely different process to secure the bead in place for the section you need to do thirty times. If you don’t get the dangly at the end (part 38) good and secured it will fall off quite easily while you are putting the rest of this component together. Ask me how I know that (you already know). Same goes for the connection between parts 18 and 39. So… these challenges aside, I complicated matters because of my obsession with the aesthetics of things. I realized that these would hand sideways to where they hang from the model, and I thought it would look better if the faced out. So I decided to twist the “core” of parts 18 and 22 so that the loop at the top was rotated 90 degrees (perpendicular) to the strip at the bottom. Then I realized it would look weird with a very small amount of twist along the length. So I twisted the central section 360 + 90 degrees, with the idea that it would look more intentional. As if the twist were a feature. Of course, I couldn’t twist them all evenly, but I decided I just wouldn’t care. I still think it looks better, even if it took a lot longer.
And with the simple act of attaching these super-bangles, the build is done! Over 11 hours in the making, I am glad to have completed this model, though I don’t know that I’ll be doing another bead-heavy model in the near future – I like the results, but the process is quite exacting. My shoulders were aching after all the hunching I did – this build requires a lot of focus and squinting. You can scan through the repetitive build as you like in the build videos below.