Monday, 25 June 2018

From hoard to horde

What's the difference between a zombie and a skeleton?

Let me expand upon this to say I'm talking about the kind of zombie and skeleton hordes found in fantasy, undead tropes. Not Haitian zombies and not real-life skeletons (buried in the ground, or hanging on frames in medical labs, or living unassuming lives hidden inside someone's body).

No, I'm talking about the flesh-eating zombies of the horror genre and the re-animated skeletons of films like Jason and the Argonauts.

Strangely, the answer to this question, although immediately obvious for any casual fan of this kind of thing, doesn't really stand up to any kind of scrutiny.

Zombies tend to be wild, mindless beasts, incapable of wielding any kind of tool or weapon, yet driven to horrific acts of violence by an insatiable hunger for human beings, whereas skeletons are usually clinical echoes of their former selves, re-animated to perform certain acts from their previous lives, often with great skill.

But does that really make sense? Surely the difference should merely be one of decomposition? The skin on a skeleton has mostly rotted away, whereas zombies still have some of theirs.

Of course this can probably be argued, ad infinitum, to be dependent upon the process and act of re-animation. Have zombies come back to life because of some strange virus? Are the skeletons held in thrall by the magical mind of a necromancer? That kind of thing.

For me, one of the best, most rational* descriptions of zombies and skeletons comes from a book I only finished reading a couple of months ago. It was Dan Abnett's The Magos (which I mentioned here too). In it the re-animated dead come in various forms, but those with no muscle or sinew are slower and more cumbersome, because magic has to do all the work, whereas, the more recently dead are still held together quite well, so the magic can concentrate on getting the other jobs done.

At least, that was my take on it.

I think for the purposes of my gaming collection I have fallen somewhere in the middle. Zombies and skeletons are very similar, at different stages of decomposition, but it is not necessarily this that determines their level of awareness. I like the idea that one skeleton might be little more that a shambling pile of bones, whereas the next could be a right dangerous creep, running at you with axes swinging. I guess the slower ones would naturally fall behind and form a unit of 'zombies', whereas the more warrior-like characters would likely form up to create a unit of, er, well, warriors.

And that leads me neatly on to why I'm going on about this in the first place.

It's because of my kitbasher's love of blurring the lines between unit types in Warhammer and Warhamer 40,000. The whole thing can be summed up, simply by saying I wanted some of the skeletons in my Undead force to have the odd remnant of flesh and occasional scrap of clothing clinging to their otherwise bare bones.

I tried to achieve this by starting with Citadel's original skeleton plastics and mixing in a hoard of parts from the Chaos Warriors, Zombie Regiment, and Beastmen sprues (plus any other one-off bits 'n' pieces, that looked vaguely right, that happened to be in my line of sight at the time).

One of the biggest problems with this approach turned out to be the scale. The plastic skeletons seemed visibly smaller than most of the other parts I was planning on using, and this prevented me from freely mixing and matching. Everything had to be carefully considered, with lots of parts needing to be shaved or cut down. I don't mind if one or two characters are bigger than the others – you see this in life too – but a tiny person with giant arms hanging below his knees can look a little silly.

Another unexpected issue was to do with their skulls. I had planned to use a few Zombie heads, but the scale thing really scuppered this, and I found myself a little short of the requisite numbers. I ended up having to repurpose one or two skulls from other places, where the level of detail probably wasn't quite high enough.

And finally, the eagle-eyed will notice there are three miniatures above that didn't start life (or undeath) as Citadel plastics. The first was a really old metal skeleton reaper. Its pose was very static, and its robes pristine, so I used Green Stuff in an attempt to add a little movement and deterioration to it. The second was the final Deadman of Dunharrow miniature with a head swap (see my previous entry), and the third was a plastic Mantic Ghoul, with an arm swap.

All that's left now is to paint them. With a little luck (and a lot of commitment) there'll be more on that next month.

*If you're thinking what I'm thinking, then I agree. Rational is not a word that has much place when you're playing make-believe. However, that said, any story should always have its underlying logic stand up to a little gentle probing. If it all comes crashing down at the slightest provocation, then it's no better than a liquid metal robot being able to use a time travel machine that's only supposed to work on organic matter. Or a landing party of cutting-edge research scientists taking off their helmets on a hostile planet, simply because they detect some oxygen. Or alien invaders who are fatally allergic to water, attacking a planet that is predominantly water, and deciding the best way to do it would be if they were naked**.
**I can feel a whole new article coming on.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Bones brigade

About a month ago I mentioned my plan to paint up a bunch of old skeleton miniatures that I still had from my childhood. I decided the first batch would include most of the metal infantry figures, plus a couple of plastic test models for the next batch. Some of the metal models were, ahem, 'bona fide' skeleton models, while the rest were from other Citadel ranges, that I had roughly converted about a decade ago (mainly by decapitating them and grafting on a plastic skull head instead).

This left me with quite a mixed selection of characters, with very little coherency from one model to the next (other than the fact they were all Undead, of course). But this was exactly what I was after.

I love the idea that each model in my collection is an individual. There are no indistinguishable troops, faceless and identical to each other – even when talking about skeletons whose faces have literally rotted away. Every single warrior in a battleline will have had an entire life stretching out behind them before they got to that moment. And with the Undead they'll have had a death or two thrown in for good measure.

This concept of individuality has been with me since my earliest days in this hobby, and was probably fuelled by the fact that in the 1980s most purchases of miniatures were in blister form – where you built a unit by buying three or four unique warriors at a go.

The official photography of the time reflected that, and nowhere was it more apparent than the wonderful, sprawling dioramas occasionally found in Games Workshop publications.

With the Undead there was a particular diorama that imprinted itself on my young mind. I think it was first seen in the Warhammer Fantasy Battle 3rd edition book (released in 1987), having been painstakingly created by the now infamous John Blanche, Games Workshop's director of art.

Stretching across a double page spread we got to see what looked like hundreds of Undead troops rambling towards a Dwarven stronghold in the mountains. The Undead warband was comprised of skeletons, ghouls, zombies, wraiths and other strange and fantastic creatures, all in various stages of decomposition and clearly meant to be possessed of different levels of free will.

As far as I can tell this incredible diorama is now on display at Warhammer World. But if you can't get there to see it in person, there are some decent pictures to be found online. You can see a good few of them at either Orlygg Jafnakol's Realm Of Chaos 80s blog here or Steve Casey's Eldritch Epistles blog here.

Anyway, as a young boy, when I first saw that shambolic horde of re-animated corpses, I really wanted to create a tabletop army equivalent. And now, as a middle aged manchild, my Addiction Challenge seems like a good excuse to, ahem, bring the idea back to life.

So in this post let me present the next twelve warriors in my Undead warband.

In the above photo the character on the left was a head swap on a miniature from the old Men At Arms range, the middle one was a regular skeleton warrior (perhaps released a little later than most of the others shown here), and the one on the right was part of the Skeleton Command Group selection.

The next three include another Skeleton Command Group miniature, a head-swapped Deadman of Dunharrow from the original Lord of the Rings range, and a plastic Skeleton Horde miniature given arms from the plastic Zombie Regiment.

Here we have another Skeleton Command Group member, a zombie of some kind, and a converted Paladin.

And finally, the above three miniatures include the Skeleton Horde conversion that I showed last month, the final Skeleton Command Group miniature and another Lord of the Rings Deadman of Dunharrow (whose head seems to have been replicated on the top of the banner next to him).

So that's twelve new miniatures to subtract from my Addiction Challenge. But before I show you the score, here's a group shot of my completed Undead warriors so far.


Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The Giant Robo Alphabot, part eleven

So here we are. We've come a long way together. It's been quite a journey. We've looked at animated and live-action science-fiction films. We've taken examples from board games and video games. And we've explored comics and model kits. Some of this stimuli has been quite new, and some has been considerably older. We've discussed the software needed to create each poster and the time it takes to do it. We've even delved a little into my psyche, looking for motivation and reasoning. It's been emotional.

But all good things have to come to an end. And so do all rubbish things.

And somewhere in the middle sits my robot alphabet. So with that, I give you the last two entires, both from a game system quite close to home.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Dem bones, dem bones...

Sometimes, when you see a new miniature, it resonates with you in such a way that you simply have to have it. I imagine anyone who collects wargaming models is familiar with the feeling. A mixture of fascination and appreciation, combined with just a hint of dread, knowing that you will end up spending cash on more tiny toys that are likely to sit around unpainted for much of the foreseeable future. Not just a wonderful opportunity to paint something beautiful, but also the burden of another unfinished task.

Or is that just me? Am I wracked by some strange negativity? A sense of apprehension or foreboding, like shadows reaching out of darkened corners?

Could it be the nature of the models themselves?

You see, recently a new set of miniatures has been triggering that desire to acquire, quite overwhelmingly, in me. It's the skeletal Sepulchral Guard for Warhammer Shadespire. I can hardly stop looking at the pictures of them in White Dwarf. I find myself browsing the GW website late a night, looking for additional information. I'm convinced that if I wasn't in the middle of my Addiction Challenge, I would have bought them already, and they'd be sitting in another box on a shelf in my house somewhere.

But, as I am prevented from 'investing' in any new toys until I've fully completed 100 old ones, that's not the case. I am both happy and sad about this restriction, so I have decided to turn these tumultuous feelings to my advantage.

Instead of buying new miniatures I've gone through my boxes and boxes of old ones and dug out everything that could be classed as undead.

The first thing I discovered was this little squad of skellies that I had converted and repainted about a decade ago. I brushed them off and decided to swap their bases to match the Sepulchral Guard's round Age of Sigmar ones. That way if this project gets off the ground, these guys will be the vanguard of the new force.

Then I dug a bit deeper and found some miniatures from way back when I was a small child – probably about 30 to 40 models in total, mainly from the mid to late eighties. Most of them were in pretty bad shape, broken and covered in thick paint, but a few were box-fresh, still on their sprues.

These excited me, so I snapped off a quick picture. But I was clearly so horrified by the terrible condition of the other models that I didn't want to document them. They weren't fit for public consumption. Just small amounts of metal and plastic, soaked in thick globs of glue and paint. I left these ones to soak in two different baths of paint stripper. Dettol for the plastics, and acetone for the metals.

And finally, for now, I decided to have a quick stab at converting some of the parts off one of the sprues. I upscaled the weapon with a cleaver from the plastic beastman sprue, added some plasticard belts, and sculpted a tiny bit of green stuff into some fur and torn fabric. This last addition being more about giving the flimsy model some internal solidity than anything else.

So, although I have ended up adding 30 or 40 more models to my painting backlog, I have at least cleared some old boxes from my shelves. Hopefully there will be something worth seeing within in a month or two.

Friday, 27 April 2018

A farewell to arms (and legs, and forcibly grafted prosthetics)

It's a minor celebration today. About this time nine years ago, I built a small handful of miniatures that I thought represented everyday servitors in the Imperium of Man. I've just finished the final 3 of the original set, plus another from Forge World that I added later. This means it took not quite a decade to complete what turned out to be a 17 man* squad. Embarrassingly it's probably one of my quicker challenges.

The characters in the above photo are based on the following miniatures: on the far left is an Inquisitorial servitor from Forge World, now available as part of Solomon Lok's retinue, third from the left is a mildly adjusted Scrap Thrall from the Privateer Press Warmachine range, and the other two are both conversions of out-of-print bad guys from Rackham's Confrontation.

I've talked about my converted civilian servitors before, sharing some of the other miniatures as they were finished, and going into a little more detail on the subject. The original post can be found here, with updates here, herehere and here.

But who can really be bothered to click on all those links? So below are all the completed miniatures from this project, including the two Track Team members that I added after starting this blog.

Another four painted models drops my Addiction Challenge score down into the seventies. This means at the current rate of progress it will be roughly another three and half years before I'm allowed to buy any new miniatures.

In reality I don't know if I can hold out that long – which is kind of the point with addictions – so I have a plan to speed up my progress. It's basically about dropping my already bad paint quality even further, and batch painting a whole bunch of miniatures using only the most basic techniques. It's hard to believe, but the miniatures on this blog are likely to get even worse in the coming months.



*Man, woman, cyborg, bio-mechanical victim of a brutal regime.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Meat for the grinder

Imagine a really skilled painter. A painter who specialises in tiny plastic toy soldiers, just over an inch high*. Now imagine you stripped out all of that painter's skill and technique, removing every shred of their artistry, and replaced it, instead, with the crazed fumblings of a middle-aged man-child.

Well, imagine no more. Welcome to Torva Tenebris.

It's been nearly a month since I posted anything, so I'm slinging up a couple of pictures to show what I've been doing.

I've finished another two of the miniatures that have been sitting around on my desk. They're both inhabitants of my Imperial hive city, Kruenta Karoliina Arx Rotunda. The kind of characters you might see if you were unlucky enough to have to visit the place**.

The first is a bounty hunter or hired gun that I constructed back here. I've used a paint scheme I was eager to try out, where the slightly battered armour panels are a bright, vivid colour, but most of the rest of the model is muted and knocked back. 

My painting technique (or lack thereof) is about trying to convey a quick impression of what my characters might look like. I sometimes think of it as a middle ground between the bright, primary coloured approach of something like Warhammer 40,000 second edition, and the don't-worry-too-much-about-painting-within-the-lines style of Blanchitsu. But with all of that aforementioned skill stripped out.

Now if you thought the painting on the first chap was bad, wait till you see this next guy. He's meant to be an officer in some kind of Imperial military facility, and was based on a character from a Rogue Trooper comic. You can read about that process, and see an unpainted picture of him hereI originally intended to lavish attention on this model, to really go to town. I was going to showcase the very best of my ability. But every tiny mistake I made, somehow seemed five times worse after I'd tried to correct it, and it wasn't long before the model looked like an old pantomime dame wearing too much make-up. So I changed tack, and decided just to get him finished as quickly as I could. Being able to move on to the next model has become increasingly important ever since I began my Addiction Challenge.

Talking of which, here's the new score:


*The toys are just over an inch high. Not the painter.
**Yes, I am aware it's not real.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Get your heavy on

In the WH40K universe, the Imperium of Man is an overwhelmingly martial culture. It's geared so strongly towards warfare that a heavy-duty, military aesthetic would probably have filtered down and permeated regular civilian life. Conurbations would likely be full of suits, machines, and structures, engineered to withstand the brutal rigours of daily use in a society that cares nothing if its people live or die.

This harsh, civilian existence, away from the frontlines and battlefields of the distant future, is slowly starting to be covered by the official Citadel Miniatures range. It's what Dan Abnett and the other Black Library writers jokingly refer to as domestic 40K, and it's something that has inspired a few of my previous modelling projects.

Abnett writes most extensively about the subject in his Eisenhorn and Ravenor books. A growing set of novels and short stories that bring the civilian aspect of the Imperium to vivid, visceral life. His latest Eisenhorn collection, The Magos was released earlier this month, collecting all the short stories together in one place, along with a brand new novel.

In a strange, coincidental twist, Eisenhorn's call sign is Thorn, and the original name of the two civilian/industrial suits I'm sharing today was the Thorn Heavy Industries Utility Carapace.

Released by Mike McVey as part of his stunning, but limited Sedition Wars range, they later found their way into his Kickstarter campaign to launch the boardgame Battle for Alabaster. I found McVey's whole Kickstarter range quite tricky to work with, due to the nature of the plastic and casting, but there's no denying it contained a tonne of interesting miniatures.

These ones in particular neatly embody the hulking, utilitarian, military aesthetic that I mentioned above. They've had a little conversion work to help them sit more comfortably in the gothic and outlandish WH40K universe – a head swap and some additional tools or weapons – but hopefully nothing that detracts from how cool the original models were.

In my collection these guys now represent a haulage and transit crew, wearing heavy lifter rigs used for loading, maintenance and repair on one of the many industrial sites throughout the city of Kru. They're not fully fledged members of the Adeptus Mechanicus, but I imagine they at least have some kind of working relationship with them.

I started these two characters at the same time as my Aedes servoloader, and as such they suffered from the same basic problem that did: my utter inability to use an airbrush, even for simple base coating. The initial, flat yellow coat pooled in the model's recesses and remained thin and translucent where I needed it most. It made the models difficult to work with, and left my final paint job looking even more amateur than usual. But I did what I could, and, as always, tried to hide the worst of my mistakes behind plenty of weathering.

Regardless of the errors, I'm fairly pleased with how they turned out, and happy to call them finished. Especially as it means I can move on to something else, and try to knock the following score down a little further.