Thursday, 16 March 2017

An interview with Sean Patten from

In today’s post prolific scratch builder Sean Patten, the man behind and the stunning, spawling Necromundicon terrain, talks us through some of his inspiration, interests and experiences, and offers a few tips for constructing models and scenery.

Hello Sean, thanks for taking the time to speak to me. You’ve been interested in miniature model making and the WH40K universe for many years now. Do you remember what initially drew you to it? Do you still have your first mini?
In grade school, growing up in California, I was exposed to a copy of D&D my mom picked up (she’s pretty cool – a SF&F writer, so I had good connections). I didn’t play it per se, but loved poring over the maps and modules, reading about monsters, and even pushing around some poorly painted metal figures. I started drawing my own crude maps on graph paper… but I really started gaming in earnest in High School, playing RPGs with my friends – Gamma World, Traveller, Car Wars – just pen and paper back then. In college, I ran a Gundam RPG and used model kits for the combat. Then I ran into Rogue Trader at the local game store, and everything changed... I started by converting some plastic army men and dinosaurs, but eventually picked up a copy of the RTB01 plastic Space Marines, and devised my own chapter – the Storm Horses. I think I still have them somewhere... I also got some of the first Eldar Aspect Warrior miniatures – the models were so nice, I had to do a proper paint job on them – I still use them today. My paint skills have gotten a lot faster, but not much better...

I first came across your work with the fantastic Necromundicon city terrain you made for WH40K about the time Necromunda was released. What inspired you to build all those incredible models, and then put them online?
After college, my friends helped me get a job in the video games industry. Earning a living doing paper games was near impossible back then. But I still managed to find time to play those kind of games at home, and work on terrain. For my old Gundam games I had made terrain out of packing foam and cardboard laid out on the floor. In college, my 40K terrain consisted of architectural drawings printed out and pasted onto cardboard boxes. I knew I could do better, and set to converting toys and model train buildings into terrain for our games. I’ve been a longtime fan of urban exploration, and wanted to capture the feeling of exploring abandoned buildings and industrial sites, but in miniature. Necromunda’s urban setting was fun to achieve, making terrain gritty and industrial however I could. My friends encouraged me to make a website, so I taught myself the utmost basic skills in html and Necromundicon was born. Once I figured out how to make and modify a table, my web design growth stopped – which is why my site is still so clunky! I really should spend more time on it, but given the choice of website or models, I always choose models. Or games.

Some of the Necromundicon terrain, much of which dates back to the 1990s

Do you still add to your 40K collection?
I do. Work keeps me super busy, but as the kids get older and more self sufficient, they are actually the main audience for my games and projects. They're in Middle and High School, the golden age of gaming. Old enough to watch Fury Road, but young enough to have time and enthusiasm for campaign games! Currently I’m running a Rogue Trader RPG for my kids and friends. Finding players gets harder as you get older and have less free time – so it’s nice the kids enjoy playing, and I often pick up players from work. A maybe-not-so-surprising number of video game developers like tabletop games. We even play at lunch now and then. Fortunately, I have a healthy collection of terrain and minis, so I can concentrate on special projects like scratch-building ships for our campaign. There's a thread on Dakka Dakka here where you can see what we’re up to.

The scratch-built fleet from Sean's current Rogue Trader RPG

Those ships look brilliant. Beautifully detailed. You have a fascinating ability to spot discarded household items and repurpose them for your miniatures. I remember you suggested using old hair curlers as the cages around tall ladders. Where do you get these ideas? Do you have any favourite re-appropriations?
The more you build, the more your eye is trained to look for things that could be useful. Studying reference photos and real environments comes naturally to me. The stuff I’ve found most useful is anything that I can get a lot of, especially plastic bits that have lots of detail. I used to collect obscure discarded electronics and parts, but if you figure out what to do with them and you only have one, it’s kind of a dead end. I constantly find uses for CPVC pipe fittings, electrical work boxes, VHS cassette cases and reel hubs, plastic clothespins, sprinkler cutoff risers, plastic levelling shims, cross-stitch grating, and on and on. The lock rings from Minute Maid juice bottles are particularly cool looking. Recently I discovered Tropicana juice lids, which make excellent gothic exhaust ports, but even better Eldar terrain.

A 40K scale, scratch-built Thunderhawk Gunship from over 15 years ago

We can see that Eldar terrain on your Dakka Dakka link above, right? How does the idea for a model come to you? Do you tend to start with components you’d like to work with, or is it more about having a model you’d like to achieve? Is there a lot of experimentation during a typical project, or do you have fairly accurate plans right from the off?
Often when I’ve found a new material to work with, I just monkey around trying it against other parts to see what looks cool. But other times I’ll have a deliberate functional piece in mind, and sketch it out in a crude little sketch book. I can usually remember the size and shape of a lot of materials, and identify them in the sketch. This is a more recent workflow, discovered when riding the bus (time to sketch). It can save a lot of staring at parts at home, and time is my most precious resource these days...

Ork minelayer, built around a large plastic bottle

If only there were more hours in the day… Got any tips you can share?
Don’t be afraid to just try something, with the understanding that if it ends up looking lame, you can always rip it off and try something else. Also, the more you can have of a material, the more things you can try, and if you find a combination you like, you can mass produce it. And when painting terrain, try to use more than one color. Just a few washes and a bit of drybrushing can make your work look amazing, especially if you put some effort and texture into its construction.

Another 40K scale, scratch-built ship

Do you have any tricks for adding texture?
Of course! I love rivets, and add them to anything I can. Here's a tutorial for the different methods I use. I also love brick – I often start with O scale train buildings just for their brick and stone textures. You can buy corrugated and diamond plate plastic from hobby suppliers, but you can also use Zip Ties, Floor Shims, Cross-stitch Grating, and Fluorescent Lighting Panels to make interesting looking wall and floor paneling. And of course, when all else fails, drill holes in it!

Sean's gun turret, part of his Necromundicon project

Good tips, thanks. Plus some excellent ways to add rivets in that tutorial. Your site is jam-packed full of great tips and tricks. Have you ever written anything for Games Workshop?
I was contacted by Fanatic magazine back in the day, to do some articles on terrain (mostly stuff from my site, which they must have found). I contacted the White Dwarf crew much later, and managed to get a couple articles done for them – that was pretty cool.

Sean's article on Eldar terrain, from issue 309 of the US White Dwarf
And his cooling tower from issue 314

Do you have any connections with any other commercial gaming organisations?
WizKids asked me to make a couple of terrain tables for them – one for Mage Knight, and one for Mechwarrior. They were fun projects, I never worked on anything so big. I discovered some new techniques working on those, like using sound dampening board and pine bark for natural terrain. The sound dampening board I'm talking about is basically just pressed paper shreddings, so it is easy to tear by hand, and it yields very organic shapes.

The 8' x 4' MechWarrior table
And a shot showing part of the beautiful Mage Knight display table

Your site contains stage by stage articles on the construction of a lot of the things you've mentioned (the MechWarrior table can be found here, for example). But it's not just terrain you tackle, is it? You have a tonne of other related projects, many of which break away from the WH40K or WizKids universes. Which ones have you enjoyed the most?
I love making props, stuff you can wear or play with. I don’t have as much time or space for props as I used to, but it’s fun to see how good you can make something look, even if it started as just a Nerf gun or some foam. Making or repurposing terrain for other aesthetics is a nice break, like the grungy sci-fi of Votoms and Star Wars, to the post-apocalyptic chaos of Gamma World.

A tiny portion of Sean's extensive Mordheim scenery

You clearly love modelling and painting, but you also play a lot of games, right? You mentioned Star Wars and Gamma World. Which games are your favourites?
I’m more of a co-op guy than competitive. As a result, I don’t even play with the official 40K rules! For example, I made alternate rules for Space Hulk that let you play co-op against automated enemies (you can see them here). This makes games more approachable for my kids too – we can play together instead of against each other. Other games we enjoy are Galaxy Trucker, Relic, and Flash Point Fire Rescue. We also play PC and console games together, like Terraria and Borderlands. As I mentioned earlier, professionally I design video games, so I like to take a break from work... by designing tabletop games!

Do the skills from making tabletop games help you when working on video games?
Well, as an example, when designing and laying out the strongholds and wilderness spaces in Shadow of Mordor, I found that having an eye for combat, traversal, and exploration spaces really came in handy.

Sean's Imperial War Train rumbles through an industrial sector

That makes a lot of sense. Where does your inspiration come from?
Star Wars was a pretty big influence when I was a kid, especially the used-technology aesthetic. Films like Blade Runner, Alien and Road Warrior have been a strong visual inspiration. And John Woo’s Hard Boiled is a cool example of extremely close range combat in urban settings. In fact my urban exploration adventures were always more fun when I imagined them in a dystopian or post-apocalyptic setting. I used to explore the Coastal Defense Gun Emplacements around San Francisco, and, since moving to Seattle, have explored more in the Puget Sound and around the mouth of the Columbia river. I’ve taken photos of all manner of industrial compounds, ruins, and the like, and found even more impressive photos online by others so inclined. And of course, the 40K universe and Mordheim have inspired an interest in gothic and classical architecture.

A photo from Sean's recent exploration of Fort Worden

You mentioned Star Wars there, you're clearly a fan. The Force Awakens or Rogue One?
Rogue One, of course! I always liked Episode IV the best of the original trilogy... the galaxy seemed so much bigger and more wondrous than in any other Star Wars film. Returning to that time period was really satisfying, and it was refreshing seeing characters that were more morally questionable, and expendable – it meant the villains could be a lot more believably dangerous than usual.

It was a great film. I’ve heard people say the first half was a little boring, but I didn’t find that at all.
Yeah, the pacing is very different from A New Hope. But it still managed to make the universe feel huge. They totally nailed the tech aesthetic from ANH – I love all the black control panels with panel lines and heavy lights and switches... Droids, weapons, armor and vehicles, all felt so tangible. We’ve lost that tactile feel to our technology in real life, I fear.

But it’s still very apparent in your industrial terrain. Do have any hobby plans for the future that you can share with us today?
I’ve been working on a little co-op Star Wars board game, and I have plans this summer to start up a Gamma World campaign again – this time, with my own rules system to keep the game moving at a good pace! As an RPG based on D&D mechanics I find it a little clumsy and archaic compared to modern RPGs, but I love the theme. All the RPGs we play are just an excuse to play more narrative minis games, really. We use miniatures for all our gaming! My Star Wars Adventures game makes use of minis from Imperial Assault and the Star Wars Miniatures game. The IA minis are way better quality, but expensive and require painting, whereas with the SW Miniatures game the figures were pre-painted, so that speeds things up a bit and they can be handled with less care.

Speed – such an important aspect of this time-consuming hobby. It’s so easy to get bogged down in long, drawn-out projects. So on that note, thank you for dedicating so much time to this interview. I really appreciate it. And I can’t wait to see what you build next.

Sean's website, Iron Hands, can be found here, and includes links to many of his incredible projects, rules sets, and tutorials.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Track team

Right, no preamble today. I'm just jumping straight in and sharing a couple of photos of some WH40K industrial servitor types that I chucked together. They were both the result of a little bit of kit-bashing, a little bit of scratch-building, and a fair bit of bodging.

The top one is based on a tiny bulldozer toy that I brazenly stole from one of my sons, while the bottom one uses parts from Games Workshop, slapped together and stuck to an excellent pair of cat tracks that I got from Zinge Industries.

Admittedly both these miniatures look a little bit pony right now, but once they've been painted they will look absolutely, totally awesome.*

*This may not be entirely true. It may not even be vaguely true. In fact it is quite likely to turn out to be completely untrue.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

The build-up to building buildings

I've talked a lot about my WH40K Imperial hive city project on here – and I've shown a handful of the robots, servitors, denizens, vehicles and scatter terrain that I'm going to use to populate the thing – but there's always been one vital ingredient missing. The city itself.

And that's because I've not actually started constructing it. The buildings have not been built.

So the other day I cleared some space and started putting some tin cans, foamboard, MDF and plastic parts together to see what would happen.

And what happened was, I ended up spending a lot of time working out which bits went with which, and a lot less time actually building any models.

So I'm afraid I still don't have any buildings ready to share.

But it became apparent during these preliminary fumblings that I was subconsciously drawing a lot of ideas from a single source. A source that was so brilliant, yet so rarely mentioned, that I felt I should probably dedicate a blog post to it.

It was a series of articles published in White Dwarf issues 260 to 263, back in late 2001, written by Paul Rudge.

He gave us a multi-part guide to making foreboding, semi-industrial scenery for the 54mm game Inquisitor. And, although the scale was different to the regular 28-32mm of WH40K, most of the techniques he discussed transferred very comfortably.

I suspect many long-term hobbyists will remember the articles fondly, and just might like to take another look at them.

So, entirely without any kind of permission whatsoever, I thought the best possible thing I could do would be to present the collected article here, scanned and collated directly from the original pages of White Dwarf.*

We had to wait for issue 264 and the Paraelix Configuration campaign scenario to witness the awesome power of the fully operational battlefield

My planned pieces probably won't look anything like Paul Rudge's incredible scenery from over a decade ago, but a great many of the finished elements will owe almost all their existence to it. With a little luck I'll have something in a fit state to expose itself to the world within the next couple of weeks.

*Games Workshop, I did it out of love. Please don't sue me.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Paint your wagon

Last year, while watching all the robot cowboys slug it out on HBO's excellent Westworld reboot, I was inspired to dig out the old wagon you can see below. I still had it in its ziplock bag, completely untouched, after buying it from an independent trader at a Salute exhibition about 15 years ago.

Although it's got a wild frontier look to it, I figured I could get away with it for my Warhammer fantasy terrain if I loaded it up enough to look like a heavy goods cart. In fact, even better, if I made it look like it had been abandoned, it might just slot neatly into my walled town Chaos terrain project. It would add a bit of interest to an otherwise empty street – just another item that was given up when the settlement was overrun by crazed bad guys. It's kind of the Old World equivalent of those rusty cars I knocked out a few weeks ago.

I've mentioned my Chaos fantasy terrain a few times on this blog before (and even mentioned mentioning it), but I still haven't put up any photos. It's becoming a bit of a running theme: constant reference to something that I never adequately describe. It's like an accidental version of the orphaned joke trope, sometimes seen in movies, books and TV shows, where a viewer or reader repeatedly hears either the set-up or punchline to a gag, but never gets the complete story. Tyrion's honeycomb and jackass joke from Game of Thrones is a popular example of this, where his inability to finish the joke is played for humour in its own right.

There's a tiny little coincidence here too, as Westworld itself featured a take on the orphaned setup trope when Lee Sizemore, the head of the park's Narrative Department, wrote what he thought was his best speech, only for its delivery to be repeatedly cut short by a bullet.

Aaaanyway... when I've quite finished comparing myself to two of the best programmes on television, I'll see if I can deign to get back to what I'm supposed to be talking about.

And I promise I'll try not to mention any more TV shows.

While painting the cart I thought I'd have a crack at painting a couple of bolt throwers too. They had the same kind of textures – old wood, rope and rusty iron – so I figured I'd benefit from a bit of batch painting. It's the hobbyist's equivalent of economies of scale.

The ballista on the left was an old Games Workshop model, part of their Orc and Goblin range back in the late 80s, while the one on the right was my attempt to convert an even older model to look a bit like the first one.

These days they'll just lend themselves to whatever fantasy army or terrain is in need of them most. Bolt throwers for hire. Like the siege engine version of mercenaries. Soldiers of fortune. So if you have a problem, if no-one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... The B-Throwers!

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

The Giant Robo Alphabot, part seven

Due to my love of gritty, military design styles with a sci-fi twist, my robot alphabet has lots of thematic overlaps with 28mm model ranges. Many of the walkers and 'bots I've featured look like they'd be right at home in the middle of a miniatures-based wargame.

But only a few have actually come from that arena. These next two armour-plated entries are each lifted from bona fide tabletop battle games.

The first is a walking Nazi Panzer tank from Paulo Parente's alternate World War II game, Dust; and the second is one of the stunning Leviathan mechs from Mark Mondragon's Iron-Core game, released by his company Dreamforge Games.

These dangerous looking robots are therefore each available as model kits in a roughly 28mm-32mm scale*. And in fact both of these kits are currently sitting dejected among my other unfinished projects, waiting forlornly for their chance to appear on this blog as finished models or conversions.

Looking at these brutal vehicles makes me want to abandon all my other projects and immediately go to work on them. But surely in that way madness lies? Or if not madness, then at least a desk that's so cluttered my already meagre output would probably cease altogether.

So many projects, so little time.

*The Leviathan Crusader is also available in a 15mm scale, which still makes it nearly 5" tall.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Brushing up on a rusty technique

In a totally unprecedented turn of events, I've finished a project that I only started in my previous post. Instead of getting halfway through and then losing interest and going off and starting something completely different (like I normally do), I've managed to stick with it and produce three finished pieces.

What with this being my first post of the new year, perhaps I've been inspired to find a new, more productive way of working?

The pieces are all meant to be scatter terrain for my slowly expanding WH40K city project. The bigger plan is to produce a variety of models that you could add together to create a realistic section of an Imperial hive city in the 41st millennium. From the civilian inhabitants, their motley vehicles and the once-grand architecture to the abandoned lost-zones with scratch-built shelters, unsanctioned street vendors and labyrinthine, crumbling ruins.

In short I wanted to create a city that has clearly seen better days, and whose very appearance reflects the slow collapse of the over-stretched empire that built it.

In many of my recent projects I've been experimenting with painting rust, and I wanted to try my hand at painting something that was completely worn out. Not just showing wear and tear around the edges, but utterly ravaged.

At least partially because I'm lazy and I thought it would be quick.

As it turns out it probably is quicker if you know what you are doing, but I spent several evenings trying to work out how to give the rust more depth than just a simple, flat, reddy-brown colour. Each vehicle was lightly dry-brushed all over with a silvery, metallic Citadel colour, then liberally coated with inconsistently mixed light brown and dark brown artist's oil paints. The blotchy intensity was added by washing the recesses with either a bright orange oil paint or a heavily-thinned turquoise.

I left this a couple of days to dry, then switched back to my Citadel paints to add traces of the cars' previous paint jobs – little patches of primer, clinging to the larger flat areas, stubbornly refusing the advance of the rust.

The little patches of paint were applied using stippling and small sponges to create the mottled look. When dry, I blended some of the edges back in with thinned versions of the original oil paints.

Not only does this technique nicely represent the decay and dilapidation found during daily life in the 41st millennium, but I think it could also be appropriated to create fairly unique-looking vehicles for a Death Guard army.

I've got a couple of old, unfinished Death Guard models in my collection, so I wouldn't be surprised if you saw something along these lines in a future post. I've got plenty of projects on the go right now, but I can already feel my easily diverted nature resurfacing. So I guess that new way of working I mentioned has already become old and out-of-date. Roll on 2017.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Rust buckets

Today's post is a quick, pre-Christmas update on the rusty vehicles project I mentioned in my silicone moulding article a couple of months ago.

You may remember the goal of the project was to create some scatter terrain, reminiscent of the abandoned cars found at the beginning of the video game Destiny. Have a look at these stark and moody screenshots if you don't know what I'm talking about. Or even if you do.

The wall in the background is also rich in dilapidated detail. Worth noting for any city projects

At the end of the previous article I had just given up trying to cast new vehicles, and instead found some cheap toy cars in a pound shop.

At least three of these were not just cheap, but quite nasty too

The first thing to do was to take them apart and remove any details I didn't want – like the wheels, the emergency lights, the crane and the decals.

Once finished I put all the chassis back together again and filled any major gaps with green stuff.

Then I cut some rough cardboard bases (out of the sides of cereal boxes – proper old skool style), which I reinforced by adding concentrically smaller layers in the middle, like a tiny model hill. This added a bit of much-needed strength but kept them as thin as possible at the very edges.

Then I simply glued car to base and set about detailing the leftover space – mostly with offcuts of whatever old junk I had within arm's reach.

Now I just need to get them painted – hopefully while I'm off work over the next couple of weeks. Speaking of which, have a very merry Christmas, and maybe I'll see you back here in the new year.