THE CHICAGO AWARDS SYSTEM
The basic premise of the Military Miniature Society of Illinois awards system is to recognize the good modelers and
encourage the promising ones. No deserving work should go home unrewarded. Anything done to further this goal is a
good idea, and anything that impedes it is a bad one.
The MMSI Chicago system is intended to counter the weaknesses we've seen in other shows, particularly those which
use category systems, with first, second, and third place awards in each category. The problem is that the competition is
always stiffer in some classes than others, and the fourth place loser in a crowded category is often much better than
the first place winner in another. Thus a first-rate piece goes home empty-handed, while a mediocre work gets
recognition it does not deserve.
The Chicago system reduces the categories to a minimum and eliminates the fixed number of awards, allowing the level
of work on display to determine the number and type of awards given.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of this system is that it is not a competitive one. Because the number of awards is
expandable, no piece wins an award at the expense of another. Each exhibitor's work is evaluated on its own, and he
receives the level of award the judges feel that his work merits, without regard to the awards given to other pieces in the
hall. Painters can thus judge the progress of their work from show to show, without worrying about what other modelers
The standard against which the exhibits are judged is set by winners in previous years. An experienced judge can look
at a piece and say "that is as good as the pieces that won Silver Medals last year," and score it accordingly. Judges
have, of course, somewhat different opinions, which is why we use three of them.
A disadvantage of this system is that one really has to see it in operation to appreciate some of its subtler aspects.
Nonetheless, we hope this detailed explanation of its workings will help those interested in learning how it works.
Any exhibit which includes a figure, however large or small, is eligible for the Main Exhibition. Other types of displays are
covered by the Show Committee Awards. Within the bounds of good taste, there is no restriction on subject matter. All
exhibits are eligible for the "Best of Show". Exhibits which have won awards at previous MMSI shows are ineligible for
THE MAIN EXHIBITION
The Main Exhibition is divided into two levels of ability: Basic and Advanced. Different display areas are set
aside and labeled for each of this groups. Exhibitors are free to enter their work at whichever level they choose, but all
exhibits must be entered at the same level. Exhibitors are free to move up or down a level from one year to the next,
regardless of the awards they may have won the at previous MMSI Shows.
AWARDS AT THE BASIC LEVEL
The basic level is intended for painters of modest ability, however experienced they may be in the hobby. All qualified
exhibits receive Certificates of Merit. The three judges make their decisions by consensus, and may give as many or as
few awards as they feel the exhibits merit.
AWARDS AT THE ADVANCED LEVEL
The Advanced level is geared to modelers of proven ability who have won awards at similar exhibitions in the past.
Exhibits at this level are entered in one of three divisions: Open, Painters, and Ordnance. Gold, Silver, and Bronze
Medals and Certificates of Merit are are awarded in each. Modelers exhibiting at the Advanced level are free to enter
their work in all four divisions.
In the Painters Division, judging is based entirely upon painting skill. Although scratchbuilt and converted figures are not
excluded, they are judged as if they were stock commercial castings. The Open Division, on the other hand, is intended
primarily for scratchbuilt and converted figures, vignettes, and dioramas; exhibits are judged on equal measures of
imagination and skill. The Ordnance division is for. models without figures. Figures may be included, but they will not
count in the judging.
Judging is done by two or more teams, each consisting of three judges and an assistant, who judge both the Painters
and Open Divisions in their part of the hall. Judges display their own work in the half they are not judging. The
Ordnance Division has its own panels of judges. The basic judging procedure is as follows.
The judges go through their judging area twice, once to select the pieces to be judged, and a second to judge them.
The first pass is made as a group. The judges discuss each exhibitor's exhibits in turn, selecting for judgment the piece
or combination of pieces most likely to give the exhibitor the highest award. At least one piece or group of pieces is
selected for each exhibitor, even if the judges feel his work is not likely to win an award. As the selections are made,
each judge enters the title and exhibitor on his judging sheet.
The judges then separate and make the second pass independently. Each judge awards each piece or group
previously selected I to 4 points: I for a Certificate of Merit, 2 for a Bronze Medal, 3 for a Silver, and 4 for a Gold.
These sheets are turned in to the awards committee, who then compare the lists and make the awards according to the
totals. I I out of a possible 12 points is sufficient for a Gold Medal, 8- 1 0 points for a silver, 5-7 for a Bronze, and 1-4 for
The judging is supervised by the Awards Committee Chairman. His role is essentially that of a sheepdog -- to keep
everyone headed the same general direction. Experience with the system and detachment from the actual judging
process gives him an overall view of the work on exhibition and the judging process. From that perspective, he can
check periodically with the judges on the floor, answering questions and making suggestions, occasionally nudging a
judge who has strayed to far from the rest of the flock-back into the fold. But his comments are only suggestions; the
final choices are always up to the judges.
The most legible of the judges sheets are used for the tally. The individually entries are then cut apart and placed
directly in the awards book. This way, the winners' names don't have to be transcribed, a tedious job that often delayed
the presentation ceremonies in the past.
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of this system is that since the judges are not present during the tally, they have no
idea what awards they have given until the presentation ceremony, when they learn the results along with everyone else.
BEST OF SHOW
The Best of Show is chosen by combined vote of the judges and exhibitors. Each exhibitor has a single vote, while each
judge has three. Since there are always far more exhibitors than judges, the judges' block of votes never amounts to
more than 25% of the total.
THE SHOW COMMITTEE AWARDS
The Show Committee sponsors a number of additional awards designed to recognize excellence in areas not covered
by the Main Exhibition and to stimulate interest in certain types of exhibits which they feel will enhance the show. Each
award takes the form of a pewter medal and Certificates of Merit. Judging is done by special teams of specialists.
THE THEME AWARD: For the best coordinated display of figures, dioramas or vignettes, centered on a theme of the,
THE DISPLAYERS AWARD: For imaginative use of materials and techniques to set off a display. The quality of the work
itself is not considered.
THE WARGAME AWARD: For the best display of wargame figures, either a balanced army or a special display of the
THE JUNIOR AWARD: For the best exhibit by an exhibitor fourteen or under.
The Chicago Show follows the International Judging Criteria as published in Campaigns #44. Copies of these criteria
are available upon request from the MMSI . One of the hardest things for newcomers to this system to understand is
how dioramas, vignettes, and single figures can be reasonably compared. The following excerpt from our "Instructions
for the Judges" may help to allay these misgivings:
Try to judge each piece on its own merits. Judge a diorama primarily for its success or failure as a diorama, and not so
much in terms of how much more work it represents than, say, a single foot figure. The difficulty of the job attempted
should certainly be a factor, but the sheer amount of work should not.
Grading the pieces on a scale of I - 100 or I - 10 might help. Ask yourself, "what is the modeler trying to do, how difficult
is it, and how well has he done it? What would I change if it were mine?" If you score the entries on this basis, you will be
surprised how easy it is to compare even the most dissimilar subjects.
You cannot be expected to judge the accuracy of such a wide variety of subjects, although a blatant error is bound to
shade your judgment. Generally, however, give the exhibitor the benefit of any doubt in such matters; he has done
more work on the figure than you have, and he just might be right. It is better to let a few culprits go free than to
penalize someone unjustly for research you were not aware of.
As a general rule of thumb, the best way to proceed is to go through your judging area, and pick the pieces that
impress you the most.
SELECTION AND TRAINING OF JUDGES
However good an awards system might be, its success is ultimately determined by the quality and experience of the
judges who serve it. The MMSI devotes considerable care to the selection and training of its judges. Judges at all levels
are selected for their skills as modelers, familiarity with commercial castings, and proven ability to judge objectively.
Whenever possible, judges serve at least one "apprenticeship" as an assistant before they are allowed to judge on their
The assistant judges are there to learn about the system and provide the judges with a "sounding board" for their ideas.
Some assistants are judges in training, while others are officers from other societies or simply interested hobbyists who
want to see how the system works from the inside. We encourage assistants to voice their views, but the final word
always belongs to the judges. Serving as an assistant can be fascinating, and no experience is required. Persons
wishing to participate are encouraged to contact the MMSI.
International Judging Criteria (World Expo)
This document has been compiled with three goals in mind: first, to provide a uniform set of criteria for judging figures;
second, to form a sound basic text for the training of judges in the future; and third, to give exhibitors specific
information as to what the judges will be looking for.
These are not rules. They are a set of artistic criteria, by which judges can compare models uniformly and fairly. As
such can be effectively applied to virtually any exhibition regardless of the rules under which it may be run. The key
element in fair judging is that the judges work to the same set of criteria in assessing the entries. That said, the criteria
presented here offer few absolutes. Qualifiers like "sometimes," "often," and "can be" are frequent. This is both
appropriate and inevitable. Judging is ultimately a matter of personal opinion, and while that opinion can be guided, it
cannot be dictated. In the final analysis, these criteria should therefore be viewed more as a guideline than a checklist.
We propose the following five criteria, not necessarily listed in order of importance or consideration:
• DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY
• PAINTING SKILL
• PRESENTATION & OVERALL EFFECT
• HISTORICAL ACCURACY
• BALANCE OF THE CRITERIA
We will discuss each of these criteria in turn, pointing out as specifically as we can the manner in which each relates to
the five types of exhibits established above.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY
For stock commercial figures, consideration starts with the casting itself. A beautifully detailed and well proportioned
figure is plainly easier to cope with than one which must be extensively re-worked to bring it up to standard. But the
main area of attention for stock figures is clearly the painting. Although intricately painted detail is certainly impressive,
judges should not ignore the fact that the subtle shading of long flowing robes with no detail at all can be equally
challenging. Also worth bearing in mind is that dark colors tend to be easier to shade than light ones. Moreover,
experience has shown that larger figures are harder to paint than smaller ones. Much of the success of a figure
depends on the face, and the amount of character and detail instilled by the manufacturer can make this job much
easier. Mounted figures present the additional problem of the horse, which must be delicately shaded; dapples and
greys are much more difficult in this regard. Flats, though generally smaller than their round counterparts, are often
more difficult, since a genuine feeling of roundness must be achieved with the paintbrush alone.
Figures in different scales raise another question. A larger figure is generally more challenging to paint, convert, or
sculpt than a small one; a 90mm figure is harder than a 54mm.
For Conversions the amount of conversion work attempted becomes the key factor. A minor conversion would consist
only of a small change in pose or subject, one in which the manufacturer's original design is plainly evident. A major
conversion generally involves extensive reworking of the pose or uniform, but one in which the original design can still
be discerned, albeit with some difficulty. A complete conversion leaves practically nothing of the original design except
the face and the hands, and these too are sometimes altered. The challenge of a chosen subject is also an important
consideration intricate detail, certain difficult textures (smooth, crisply defined armor, for example), and facial
expressions (subtle smiles and open mouths) all require more effort. Although dramatic action poses are exciting and
difficult to carry off, judges should be aware that subtle execution of relaxed poses can often prove equally frustrating.
Scratchbuilt projects offer much the same difficulties as conversions, with a few others thrown in for good measure.
Pose selection and execution become more critical, with figure proportion harder to control. Facial features and
expression are significant obstacles. Judges should weigh the fact that gnarled, expressive faces are sometimes easier
to accomplish than the subtlety of smoother faces in repose - a beautiful woman can be the greatest challenge of all.
Intricate detail and long flowing robes are each difficult in their own way. Horses present problems of anatomy and
musculature that require as much skill as a human figure.
Many of the considerations mentioned so far carry over into the fields of dioramas and vignettes, since these often
involve the use of converted or scratchbuilt figures. But scenes of this sort present other problems as well, ones of
design, of carrying an idea across to the viewer, creating a desired mood, composing a scene with a smooth flow of
action and effective use of the available space. Buildings, settings, and accessories must often be converted or built
from scratch, while boxed dioramas involve the problems of lighting and electricity. The sheer number of figures, while
sometimes a minor factor, should not in itself carry much weight. Only when the difficulty of a project has been assessed
can the judges proceed to evaluate the work that has been done.
The creativity a modeler shows in presenting his subject can take a surprising variety of forms. Although we have all
had occasions to see certain models and exclaim "why didn't I think of that," creativity as intended here should not be
confused with originality - all too often one finds that what one took to be original is in fact based upon an obscure
illustration, or even another model from a different period.
Although imagination in choice of subject should not be ignored, it can also be evident in other areas, such as making
ingenious use of a stock figure for a conversion, choice of an unusual setting for a fairly commonplace idea, creating a
scene by clever combination of stock figures, or the inspired adaptation of unusual materials to achieve a certain effect.
Creativity rarely plays a role at all with stock commercial figures, since the modeler simply paints it according to the
For conversions and scratchbuilts imagination plays an important part, primarily in the selection of subject and pose (,
although with conversions the creative adaptation of stock figures, commercial parts, and everyday "found" items
certainly contribute as well).
With dioramas and vignettes, creativity manifests itself in the choice of subject, setting, and lighting (if any), in addition
to the factors involved with the figures. Judges should also keep a sharp eye out for telling little details, although they
should avoid rewarding cleverness that exists only for its own sake, unconnected to the scene. Creativity is one of the
most important judging criteria. After all, it is the continuing inventiveness and ingenuity of modelers that pushes the
state of the hobby to ever greater heights.
Under the heading of workmanship we bring together the technical execution of all the non-painting efforts required for
the project. For stock commercial figures this involves little more than ensuring proper removal of molding seams and
evaluating the success of any sharpening of detail that may have been attempted. Conversions and scratchbuilts are a
different matter, since even the best paint job cannot make up for a clumsily converted or poorly sculpted figure. What
we are looking for here is performance - how naturally the figure is posed, how well the clothing folds are handled, how
crisply the piece is detailed. For both conversions and scratchbuilts, correct anatomy is paramount: an proportioned or
unnaturally posed figure should be penalized vigorously, however beautifully it may be detailed and painted. With
conversions, particular attention should be paid to the specific areas where the conversion work has been done,
ensuring first that modified joints are smoothly covered, with any disturbed clothing folds carefully restored, and second
that any new detail work is neat and precisely rendered.
Workmanship assumes an even greater importance in dioramas and vignettes, where, in addition to the figures
themselves, it encompasses everything from the construction of settings to the effectiveness of the lighting. Any
buildings, vehicles, and accessories involved in the scene should be well constructed and properly detailed, with
effective use of materials. In boxed dioramas the sight lines should be contrived to conceal all that is not meant to be
seen, and the lighting arranged so that it achieves the desired effect while still illuminating the scene. If forced
perspective is employed, it should work effectively, without distracting the viewer.
Painting skill is undoubtedly the single most important criteria, since a failure in this area can seriously undermine the
effect of even the most beautifully sculpted figure or the most imaginatively contrived scene.
Painting skill is practically the only criteria when it comes to stock commercial figures. The neatness of the detail and the
subtlety of the shading are important considerations, but in most cases it is the face that really measures the success or
failure of the piece. The eyes should be accurately located, level with each other, and lacking any suggestion of a "pop-
eyed" look. The facial planes should be strongly rendered, yet subtly shaded. Above all, the face should have character
and life suggesting a real person, not a waxen, dead image.
Care should be taken that the variety of textures are accurately portrayed, from the coarse wool of a World War I tunic
to the soft sheen of well-oiled leather. Soldiers on campaign should have the weathered, worn appearance
commensurate with their situation-, spotless uniforms and spit-shined leather belong on the parade ground.
Horses should be subtly shaded. yet still show a strong, confident use of color. The painting should accurately reflect
the anatomy and physical characteristics of the animal, such as the gray areas around the eyes and mouth, the proper
coloring of the hooves, the sparse hair areas, reproductive organs, eye color, and markings. For proper appearance,
dappling should be subtle in appearance and varied in size.
It is important to separate style from competent technique, and judges should be aware of their own prejudices in this
regard. Every judge has encountered painting styles he didn't particularly care for, but it is important to keep in mind
that this is very much a matter of personal taste; just because one doesn't fancy a particular style does not make it
wrong. The proper approach is to question whether, within the given style, the painting is skillfully done.
Conversions and Scratchbuilts obviously call for the same painting criteria as stock commercial figures. Dioramas and
vignettes, on the other hand, frequently involve structures, vehicles, artillery pieces, or other accessories, and due
attention must be paid to these. 'Me first concern is that same loving care and effort be devoted to these as to the
figures. Moreover, it is important that there be a unity of style between the figures and the other elements of the scene;
in other words, if the figures are dramatically shaded, the vehicles and buildings should be too. The feeling should be
one of a scene rendered with the same brush, rather than a collection of disconnected elements painted separately.
Both buildings and vehicles should be neatly detailed, subtly shaded and weathered to a degree appropriate to the
PRESENTATION AND OVERALL EFFECT
'Me first part of this criterion is fairly straightforward, concerning itself with the base, groundwork, and any other
elements involved in "presenting" the piece, The base and groundwork are not trivial considerations. Anyone who has
ever judged can recall examples of nicely done figures and scenes where the amateurish appearance of the base and
groundwork badly undermined the positive impression made by the model itself.
Although the style of the base used can vary widely according to the modeler's taste, whatever is chosen should be
neatly and tastefully finished; unvarnished plywood and crudely cut styrofoam are offensive to the 'eye. The groundwork
and vegetation should be realistic in effect, appropriate to the geographic setting, and painted in a style commensurate
with the figure(s). Additional credit should be given for properly creative accessories or battlefield debris, but these
should be suited to the subject and not just gratuitous detail added to fill space or curry favor with the judges.
For boxed dioramas, presentation is limited to the box itself and the framing of the scene, which should be
complementary to the subject, neatly done, and unobtrusive.
The second half of this criteria, overall effect." is really the more important of the two, yet harder to define. What it really
amounts to is a recognition of the intangible aspect of modeling, that "feeling of life" which cannot be traced to any
particular element of its construction, but which is clearly evident when the piece is viewed as a whole. As such, its
precise nature can only be vague and slightly mysterious; ultimately, it must remain very much a matter of the personal
reaction of the judges.
A good overall effect can sometimes raise a marginally less skillful effort over its more finely executed but sterile
counterpart, and is often the ultimate determining factor in close decisions when all other tic-breakers fail.
Achieving this "feeling of life" is really the ultimate goal of the hobby and, for this reason if no other, it should never be
forgotten or overlooked by the judges.
Readers will notice the complete absence of "historical accuracy" as a criteria. This is no oversight. The problem is that
with the multitude of subjects seen at shows today, it is simply impossible to judge all models with equal severity, even
within a narrow historical period. An entry on a familiar subject is likely to be penalized for even the slightest error, while
major errors in a more obscure subject escape totally unnoticed. Even acknowledged experts in a given field (and there
are few enough of these) cannot possibly carry enough information about in their heads to judge all entries in that field
Moreover, while minor errors can always be found, it should also be recognized that in a day when kits are provided with
coloring instructions, the lack of historical accuracy is not a major problem in figure exhibitions. Many modelers are
themselves amateur historians, who do original research of their own; surely it is better to let a few historical culprits go
free than to unjustly penalize an enterprising researcher for information the judge could not have been aware of. Still,
historical accuracy is one of the cornerstones of the hobby, and some effort must be made to ensure that it is accorded
the respect that it deserves. Ultimately, the best advice for judges is this: if you see an obvious and blatant error, it
cannot help but shade your judgment; but if there is any doubt, give the competitor the benefit of that doubt - he has
devoted more time to the model than you have, and he just may be right.
We acknowledge that there will be those who disagree with this view. If they wish to add historical accuracy as a criteria,
they are certainly free to do so. We would suggest, however, that they a) publish a list of criteria similar to those
presented here, and b) require their exhibitors to submit a brief list of their references used in preparing their exhibit. If
the error noted was the fault of the reference, and not of the modeler, he/she should not be penalized for it.
BALANCE OF THE CRITERIA
Obviously, certain criteria are more important in judging some types of exhibits than others. The table below indicates
the approximate weight that should be given to the various criteria when judging different types of entries.
This percentage breakdown can be used as an actual point/scoring system, or less formally as a general guide for the
judges in reaching their decisions. Another workable option would be to combine the two, employing the general guide
for most decisions, while failing back on the point/scoring system in cases where the judges cannot agree. This would
ensure that close decisions are made faithfully following the criteria, yet free the judges of the burden of having to score
It is important to note that these percentages hold true only when comparing models within each group, and should
never be used to compare different types of exhibits. The balance of the criteria have been presented in percentage
form so that societies wishing to set up their own point system have a firm but flexible basis on which to do so.
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