Painting the Early Zero-Sen
A Primer for Modellers and Artists
Author: Nick Millman
Wanna start a debate? Ask another modeler about ”the true color of… .”
Wanna start an argument? Debate the colors and markings of Imperial Japan.
Unfamiliarity with Japanese language and culture led to misidentification of Japanese companies and weapons systems, which led to subsequent assignment of westernized code names; today modelers and historians struggle with common definitions and translations. This is exacerbated by a dearth of archival material. Fortunately, survivors of the era are emerging with a growing amount of surviving original documents and relics. An increasing cadre of modelers and researchers educated in Japanese language and culture, and privy to these resources are establishing a more homogenous agreement of the subject.
Nick Millman, researcher, author and website webmaster of Imperial Japanese subjects, created and now updated a detailed 26-page PDF e-publication addressing the exterior finish of the legendary early versions of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero-Sen (reisen
) fighter, intended as both a primer and convenient basic resource for modellers, artists and restorers. The book is available from Mr. Millman’s website, and arrives password protected for the buyer. Registered purchasers will be entitled to all revisions and updates at no extra cost.
Painting the Early Zero-Sen, A Primer for Modellers and Artists...
...is a comprehensive study of the colors associated with the early reisen
fighter, a controversial debate spanning decades. Mr. Millman's intent of the work is:
… intended as both a primer and convenient basic resource for modellers, artists and restorers to understand, visualise and replicate the typical factory paint colour applied to the early versions of the famous Mitsubishi Zero fighter from A6M2 to A6M3.
For generations the movie Tora Tora Tora!
was the color source for reisen
and other Imperial Japanese aircraft subjects, the movie itself drawing heavily from the modeling community. (Recently and despite current research available, the abominable movie Pearl Harbor
squandered the opportunity to accurately portray reisen
.) With the burgeoning wealth of recent physical and intellectual resources, the debate has reignited with the restoration of original Zeros to static or airworthy condition. The author presents this thoughtful work supported by recent discoveries of original Japanese documentation and preserved artifacts, validated with modern scientific analysis. History of Zero color conventional wisdom is comprehensively examined in thoughtful detail, both objective and subjective. Color analysis is determined using international standards: Munsell, FS 595B and RAL color standards. The erudite Mr. Millman explains the logical foundation of his conclusions and demonstrates the colors, both prototype and reproductions:
Colour chips in this guide are derived from photo spectrometer measured values of actual paint samples in L*a*b*. The colour chips are rendered in sRGB and then re-verified. However accurate observation of the rendered colours is dependent upon monitor calibration and viewing software.
Difference quantifications are calculated using the DE2000 formula. This formula is the most recently recommended by the Commission International de l’Éclairage (CIE).
This book not only reasons with modern research, it also recounts the history of Zero color theory in art, history, and modeling. No doubt there will be critics who challenge some conclusions, and that can be expected. Perception by an observer is a monumental factor and the author sheds light upon the topic, discussing observer metamerism verses illuminant metamerism. He further explores reasons for swings in the conventional wisdom of reisen
colors, cautioning in the section A Word About Personal Interpretation and Choice
Subjective interpretation is most often motivated by a preconceived preference for the appearance of the finished result. Sometimes the interpretation is limited by necessity, based on nothing more than box art, kit instructions or an inherently non-critical belief formed from viewing accumulated imagery or partial data. But sometimes the interpretation is partisan, drawing on the available information selectively in order to justify a pre-determined result - and we can almost do that without realising it!
Objective interpretation is harder work and can lead to a result contrary to personal preference. It requires the sifting and critical evaluation of all the evidence available without prejudice to its source in order to reach a conclusion based on the overall weight, in effect a conclusion of probability. That is not easy as the available evidence is often fractured…
Through 5 main sections and several subsections in 26 pages Mr. Millman presents and supports his work.
1. Imagery & Paints Circa 1970-1996
documents previous primers on the topic including Donald W Thorpe’s seminal study Japanese Naval Air Force Camouflage and Markings World War II
(Aero Publishers, Inc., 1977). Culminating in the mid-1990s a decade of new thought influenced the perception of Zero colors in Japan, the chips and paintings in the Japanese Model Art series of books and magazines influencing various ranges of hobby paints such as Tamiya, Gunze Sangyo (now GSI Creos), Aeromaster and others.
2. The Historical Evidence
Today’s understanding by the author relies on physical evidence and documents including:
a. Zero Maintenance Manual
b. Kugisho Report 0266 The second official reference is a March 1942 report by the Navy Air Technical Arsenal of the results of a study for the future camouflage of the Zero fighter - Yokosuka Kaigun Kokutai (KuGiSho) Report No.0266 sometimes referred to as “Kugisho 0266”.
c. Kariki 117: an original April 1942 document - Kaigunkokukiyo Toryu Shikibetsu Hyojun, Kariki 117 Bessatsu (Imperial Japanese Navy Headquarters Paint Identification Standard for Naval Aircraft, Supplement to Provisional Regulation 117)
d. Extant Paint Samples: increasing forensic examination of extant paint samples on aircraft relics. The samples are explored considering oxidisation and chalking, plus thermal aging. The author uses extant original paint samples of Zero fighters, examined and reported by at least five independent researchers across four continents with broadly consistent results.
3. Hobby Paint Colours
This section examines 15 relevant hobby paint colours which have been measured and compared to the original Zero paint colour together with quantified differences and comments concerning their suitability and use.
The author includes comparisons and even mixing formulas to achieve the closest match possible.
4. Painting The Details
(Illustrated with custom color chips.)
a. Cowling and Decking
b. Spinner and Propeller
c. Radio Mast
d. Undercarriage Components
* Table of Manufacturer Details (See below)e. Wing IFF Strips
f. Cockpit Interior
g. Airframe Interior
h. National Insignia
i. Red-Brown Primer Paint
Art, graphics and photographs
Mr. Millman richly supports his conclusions with original art in the form of 78 color samples. These not only include theoretical colors, they also include digitized samples of artifacts and model paints. With some chips Mr. Millman demonstrates described effects by deliberately gradating some chips dark to light.
Three color photographs of artifacts qualify the reproduced colors.
Further supporting modelers and restoration interests is the Table of Manufacturer Details
listing the color of 11 undercarriage components by manufacturer - Mitsubishi or Nakajima.
I find Painting the Early Zero-Sen, A Primer for Modellers and Artists
to be an exceptional erudite exploration of the colors and camouflage of the vaunted early Zero. No doubt there will be critics who challenge some conclusions, and that can be expected. The organization of the book, the explanations, documentation, qualifiers, and illustrations are top-notch. I appreciate the paint brands compared and mixing formulas.
Students of Imperial Japanese military subjects should find this amazing work an essential addition to their modeling, artistic, and research archives. I wholeheartedly recommend this PDF book.
We greatly appreciate Aviation of Japan 日本の航空史 (formerly “Straggler”) for kindly providing this book for review here on Aeroscale!