Thursday, August 22, 2019

A Gnomish Catapult?

Here's a quick update from the gnome workbench. I've been working on a catapult. There's a bit more detailing to do. I need to add some winches, axles, and doodads. 

Please to take our Survey. We haven't started out next gnome KickStarter yet, but filling out the survey can give me an idea of what to start making next and get the creative juices flowing. 

Warmachines are always a bit tricky because I have to create separate pieces and imagine how they go together. 

 This first pic shows all of the components separated. From left to right: there's the deer faceplate, the front strut (this will be duplicated, so each kit will come with two), the chassis, the spoon, the crossbar, and a pile of rocks to hurl.
Here, I tried to mock it up. It looks a little wonky without the other front strut and the crossbar. The catapult is considerably larger than the cannon but uses the same wheels so it's not out of place in size. 
Here's a photo from the side. Let me know what you think in the comments. I am very open to suggestions. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

What made old school miniatures so good?: one sculptors opinion.

What made those minis from our youth so good?
Was it purely nostalgia or were they onto something?

This is one old grumbler's answer. I think they were onto something and in the follow essay I will try my best to pin down just what exactly it was and offer pointers for current sculptors trying to emulate that period's style. Obviously, one could easily say that it's all nostalgia, however that's not a starting point for exploring the subject, that's just the end of a conversation. Alternatively, one could say that there were also bad minis in the past and some good miniatures today. That is undeniably true, but I feel it acts to gloss over clear trends in fantasy miniature making over time. All that being said, let's jump right in.

Low Fantasy or Low-Scale High Fantasy?

The first category I want to consider is the type of miniatures that were made, more specifically how fantastical they were. Many people are familiar with the low fantasy versus high fantasy distinction. When I first considered this question, I found myself thinking that older miniatures were low-fantasy and that was what I liked about them. But, after some consideration I would like to propose a third perspective "low-scale high fantasy." Many elements of oldhammer miniatures are high fantasy. Evil elves riding lazy lizards, bull centaurs pushing whirling Da Vinci-esque kill machines, forest elves that transform into animals, scampery rat men with green flamethrowers and poison gas, and tiny goblins on handcars of death. [ not to mention dragons, demons, wizards, giants, minotaurs, and lumbering undead.]

People often define low fantasy as taking place in the real world, or a real world analogue, where fantasy tropes and magic appear either at the margins or in an intruding way. While the warhammer world is set in a clearly analogous world, the fantasy elements are not intrusive or found at the margins. The entire warhammer world is populated with fantastic things.

On the other end of the spectrum is high fantasy. The quintessential example is World of Warcraft. It is a world of heroic individuals, omnipresent magic, and everything is on a humongous scale. The monsters are big, landscapes are caricatures, and the weapons are so large they might as well be made of foam.

What old fantasy miniatures did was different. They took high fantasy tropes of magic, silly machines, and creatures but presented them on a low scale that felt just on the verge of plausibility. There were giant spiders but they weren't eight legged city blocks. They had dragons, hydras, griffons, but they were all presented in manageable sizes. A similar logic applies to the war machines and weapon crews. The tenderizers, handcarts, and flamethrowers were all presented as diminutive, haphazard, and plausibly constructed. Compare these old devious machines to the contemporary chariots of chaos and dark elves.


Take away - sculptors should aim to stay plausible, diminutive, and to avoid spectacle creep.

"Cube Poses"

I am sure there is a better term for this phenomenon. What I refer to is the space that is occupied by the model. This Cube Pose is a very frequent phenomenon for multi-part kits. Often multipart kits have a tendency to be assembled where the model results in having a slight hunch or forward lean, with bent wrestler legs, and both arms forward. The most quintessential examples are the late 5th ed. and 6th ed. multi-part plastic regiment kits.
none of these poses look natural

This situation is an understandable outcome and a lose-lose for hobbyists and sculptors. The problem makes sense from a sculptors perspective. They are trying to make a bunch of components that will all fit together and be broadly interchangeable. They also have to make each piece make sense on its own. That is, with single pose miniature, sculptors will often make compromises where things co-occuppy space or where fabric will be squished or flow around parts. These stylistic choices aren't available to a multipart kit, unless you want pieces to fit together in very particular ways. Individually most of the components of these kits were well sculpted, but they often assembled (without sig. conversion work or basic forethought by hobbyists) into these awkward  poses that occupied a very boxy space. This space occupied by the miniatures made them troublesome to paint. 

These kits tend to have weird legs that don't telegraph a clear motion. Are you running? Squatting? walking? leaning back? All of that while firing a bow? or raising a sword? 
Their legs say "running" but arms say "shooting crossbow"

Newer kits have been made with computers. computer sculpting is a whole subject in itself. However, one redeeming feature is that they have gotten better at making multi-part kits where the models fit more naturally together and rank up. There may be hope yet for these newfangled machines, but for now I think they are orc work. 

Take away - if one is to make a multi-part kit, sculptors should put less weight on making each component make sense in isolation, and focus instead on how it's likely to be assembled. Make sure the likely resultant model will have a clearly telegraphed motion. 

Planar Poses

This refers to models that have a clear plane that defines their pose. This style is most associated with the infamous "red period." Some may attribute this to the technology of the time, this seems dubious as older models did not suffer from this restriction to nearly the same degree. These poses feel unnatural and tended to be bulky.
Old on left, right is bulky and planar
Slim old model, planar bulky model, weird telegraphing model
Take away - avoid planar poses and the bulk/heft of the red period. 

Green Stuff

On this point I may be completely off base and I certainly know that many professional sculptors will have their own opinions. (feel free to post them below.) Green Stuff differs from poly clays in a few ways. The one that I want to focus on is that it expands subtly as it cures. The result is that as models cure the details expand, which results in a slight cartoonishness that seems common to many green stuff sculpts. But this just raises the question, if you want them to be slightly cartoon or bubbly why not just use materials that don't expand but sculpt them to look that way? I don't have a good answer to that. I have just noticed that green stuff models tend to appear slightly less refined 


The good old miniatures were characteristically gangly. They had skinny, lanky, knobbly arms and legs. This isn't to say that the miniatures didn't have muscles. They did. But they were still thin and lean. This was most obvious in the progression of orcs over time. The early orcs were characterful devious creeps. They were opportunistic raiders. Over the years they became more and more mindless and musclebound.
But this aesthetic didn't just apply to Orcs. It applied broadly across the range of Warhammer miniatures. Even starved religious flagellants now have rippling muscles. It's fine to have models that appear fit, but rippling muscles like body builders or gym rats are simply out of place. 

Take Away - make your miniatures gangly.

Artistic Influences

Admittedly, I was not born until 1990, so my take on the following may be woefully ignorant and I would love input in the comments or links to other articles on the matter. That being said, what I understand is that nerd culture has changed substantially in the last 30 years. I think a big part of the shift in aesthetics with miniatures has been the cross-pollination of aesthetics across nerdy disciplines.  Obviously the history of tabletop miniature aesthetics is an entire subject unto itself. I think that when considering your aesthetic when creating new miniatures in the old school manner it's important to consider where you get your inspiration. Broadly speaking manga/anime, traditional comic books, pauldron filled online RPGs each have very different aesthetics. Each brings with it differing interpretations of the world. For example body proportions are very different between the heroic proportions of comic books and the heroic scale of traditional miniatures. Mannerisms are also important yet subtle baggage. For example the poses that would be natural to a manga/anime would be largely out of place among traditional fantasy miniatures. This isn't all to say that any "non-canonical" influences should be forbidden. Early sculptors and writers borrowed from many sources. The key is to be mindful of where your inspiration comes from.

Relatedly, a sculptor should seek to familiarize themselves with the artwork of the time and genre. The miniatures didn't arise in a vacuum. They arose in the context of Tolkien,  Conan the Barbarian, and the early D&D manuals. In these early years the aesthetic was much less defined as they were mostly derived from illustrations and various interpretations of fantasy novels. Sculptors should peruse fantasy sections of used book stores and look at the book cover art, mull through White Dwarf Magazines that predate the red period/when GW went public (1992), watch the old Hobbit and LotR Cartoons and find the renaissance era paintings that the original GW staff drew from. (Rogue Trader seemed to share some influences, but seemed to draw more from sci fi novels as well as Flash Gordon, Dune, Mad Max and the punk music scene.)

Take Away - familiarize yourself with old sources, let your imagination spring off those old pages. And, where you borrow from other genres do so conscientiously, with clear allusion, and sparingly.

Don't take yourself too seriously

The early miniatures certainly touched on adult themes and had their share of gore, however, they were not grim dark. Among the peeling rotting flesh of the zombies, the casualty models, and other dark elements were tongue in cheek quips, staff jokes, and (now-dated) pop culture references. I think that this attitude translated into the models. If every model has an epic pose then none of them do. If all of the models have dramatic bases, then none of them do. In fact, many of the older models had characterful bored and mundane poses. Many older models were goofy or represented humans in simple unassuming attire. Most miniatures seemed content to be unremarkable ordinary people.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Sculpting Gnomish Pikemen

In the Silmarillion it is retold how AulĂ« crafted the dwarves. This blog tells how the gnomes come to be. I have taken a photo at each step of the process in order to share how I create my gnomes. 

I begin each project with an in-depth study of the subject. In this case I pulled up all my images of gnomes and previous gnome sculpts. Then I looked to how others had posed pikemen. It's important that my poses convey motion, and attitude. But, it's also important to me that the poses are useful/appropriate to tabletop gaming needs.

Step 1: I make very rudimentary frames for each pose. You can see that I made some doodles on the corks to help me keep the poses straight and remind me what I want them to look like. 

Step 2: I sculpt the legs and torsos. This is the biggest step, but it lays the foundation for everything else. 

Step 3: I sculpt little face smudges that are just the eyes, brows, cheeks and foreheads, these are then put on top. These faces are very primitive and forgiving as the addition of hair, beards, and noses later are more important. I also did their belts at this stage. 

Step 4: Adding beards and hair. I do this in one step. Usually I try to give some variation to the beards and mustaches but they were a bit lackluster this time.

Step 5: in this step I add the pikes (I make the pikes on the side around step 3.) I do this step after the beards because I often cut into the beards with my exacto knife to create troughs for the pikes to adhere to. I also file the paper clips so the the putty sticks better later. 

Step 6: I add wood texture to the pikes. This can be fiddly as there is quite a bit of leverage on the ends of the pikes. I had to reglue one of the pikes after it broke off. 

Step 7: I add the arms. These are mostly meant to act as frames for the arms. I keep them slim so they can anticipate the later layer of cloth. 

Step 8: I add hands but not thumbs. 

Step 9: noses!

Step 10: Ears!

Step 11: Hats and Thumbs. Hats are tricky. I try to create lots of variability among the gnome hats. I don't want them to all the look the same, but there has to be some continuity to imply a shared cultural aesthetic. 

Step 12: Sleeves. 

The final step will be giving them either a slotta tab or a pre-slotta base if I think they might tip over once cast. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Old School Gnomes Lurking About.

Since our the Alpine Gnome Kick Starter back in May of 2017, I have been able to find a few folks who have shared their gnome armies on social media. I thought I'd bundle them together here. The Gnomes are marching to war! (if you haven't yet, please take our gnome survey -> )
You can take a look at our studio gnome army here. 

First up, we have Michael Wieloch's gnomes. He has been sharing these on the OS Mini's fan group facebook page

Michael's Crossbowmen

Michael has a hefty block of gnomish spearmen. I count 25!

Michael's fox patrol

A valiant Heroine

Necromancer for Michael's undead gnomes

Next up we have Brian Weninger's Gnome Army. You can find more pics of his gnomes on his blog. Each of his units has a very distinct color scheme. All very colorful and characterful. 

Spearmen with a boar banner

Halberdiers in blue. 

Gnome crossbowmen in traditional red hats.

a mixed unit of fox riders, notice that the leader is a conversion!

Gnomish artillery

A very traditionally painted gnome. I like the redness of the nose
Next, there is Tom Murrath's Pretzel Defenders! You can find his stuff here. 

His glorious Pretzel Banner

Picture of his entire gnome army

Close up of his crossbowmen. I like the simple green color scheme.

Finally, but not least, we have Nico Janvier's Landsknecht Gnomes! Painted in a lively renaissance color scheme.

Gnomish Casualty

Nico's large block of mercenaries

Nico's Gnomish Artillery
 I love seeing how others interpret my sculpts. It drives me to sculpt more and do better. If you have some gnomes feel free to share them. I sense there are yet more out there.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Belated Gnomevember Post

I've been very busy with law school this Gnomevember. And I didn't get around to posting much about my gnomes.

So I thought I'd share some pics from my most recent gnome project: Sinister Gnomes (I think a better name is in order)

These guys are meant to be rank and file troopers for a small allied contingent force. I am currently working on a Sorcerer and command models, and have some plans for some sinister animal tamers.

I have also started putting thought to my next Alpine Gnome Kickstarter. If you have the time I'd greatly appreciate folks taking our stretch goal SURVEY. We plan to expand our range of gnomes. So far the second kickstarter has added Swallows, mounted characters, sappers, and a baggage train. I'm very excited about this project.