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 in 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.



Friday, 9 March 2018

Completely original movies that aren't

With the recent release of both the latest Cloverfield film and Guillermo Del Toro's Oscar-winning The Shape of Water, I wanted to talk about original, big budget, genre movies that share a striking similarity to unrelated, earlier works.

I'm not saying the following films have copied, stolen or plagiarised – that's for the courts to decide – but I think it worth noting that original ideas might not be as original as one may think, and that flashes of inspiration can sometimes draw on long forgotten memories.

But before we talk about the big films, let's discuss a smaller, independent science-fiction film from nearly 30 years ago, that got into trouble for borrowing its ideas a little too blatantly.

Hardware (1990)
If you saw Hardware upon its release, and also read the comic 2000AD, you might remember that the film bore a strong resemblance to a short story which first appeared in the Judge Dredd Annual 1981* called Shok!. The comic was written by Steve MacManus (under the pseudonym Ian Rogen) and illustrated by Kev O'Neill. In it, a man visits an old battlefield and brings back some interesting looking detritus to give his girlfriend, a sculptor, to use as raw material. The junk turns out to be the main components of an old war droid, which promptly reactivates itself, manages to reassemble its key body parts, and chases the sculptor around her apartment block until one of them dies.

The plot of Hardware is almost identical to this comic, but at the time, the film's writer and director, Richard Stanley, didn't acknowledge his debt to 2000AD. It wasn't until several years later that a court case forced him to come clean about the provenance of the story.

As it turns out, in the world of big movies, this kind of illicit 'borrowing' is more common than you'd think.

The Shape Of Water (2017)
The Shape of Water is currently being dragged through the courts for it's similarity to a play from 1969. In Paul Zindel's Let Me Hear You Whisper (adapted into a TV movie in 1990) a cleaner at a military research facility forms a friendship with a captive dolphin, eventually attempting to free it. The lawsuit, brought by Paul Zindel's son David, outlines similarities in concept, characters, themes and plot points. According to these similarities include "the fact that the main character is shy and doesn’t speak; their settings against the backdrop of the Cold War-era 1960s and, more specifically, a lab at which experiments are being conducted by military personnel; scenes in which the woman feeds the creature and dances to records in front of it; and rescue missions, both involving laundry carts, devised after plans to kill and dissect the creatures come to light."

At the time of writing this case is ongoing, but Guillermo Del Toro has stringently denied that his film was derived from the play.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)
Back when 10 Cloverfield Lane came out it was generally thought the Cloverfield films would form an anthology series, of unrelated stories, linked only through their themes of science-fiction and horror.**

The sci-fi horror anthology concept had been borrowed from some of the most imaginative television shows ever produced. Programmes like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits had been doing this kind of thing since the 1950s and 60s. And shows like Black Mirror, and Métal Hurlant Chronicles had more recently picked up the baton.^

But the anthology concept might not have been the only thing the Cloverfield franchise borrowed from these shows. There's definitely a case to say the entire second film was simply lifted from an episode of Métal Hurlant Chronicles.

After being knocked unconscious, a young woman wakes up to find herself imprisoned in some kind of underground bunker. There's a man in the bunker who explains that he dragged her down there to save her life, because the outside world has been devastated by a terrible catastrophe. The girl is unsure if she believes the story, and decides she is being fed a lie when she discovers evidence that suggests the man is some kind of pervert. After a fight, she is able to knock him down and escape the bunker, only to discover the world really is in ruins.

It was a 2013 episode of Métal Hurlant Chronicles, called Shelter Me, directed by Guillaume Lubrano, itself based upon a comic from 2002, written by Dan Wickline and illustrated by Mark Vigouroux. If you haven't seen 10 Cloverfield Lane, let's just say the plot is suspiciously similar.

As yet there has been no lawsuit, and the creators of 10 Cloverfield Lane have made no acknowledgement that they based their film on Dan Wickline's story. For his part, Mr. Wickline seems remarkably pragmatic about the affair. You can read his thoughts here

The Terminator (1984)
In 1964 two particular episodes of The Outer Limits aired on American television: Soldier and Demon with a Glass Hand, both written by Harlan Ellison. Soldier, based on Ellison's 1957 short story called Soldier from Tomorrow, sees a soldier hurled back in time to eventually give his life defending innocents from an even mightier warrior sent back from the same future. In Demon with a Glass Hand, another man is sent back in time to present day America only to discover he is a robot encased in human skin. After The Terminator was released, Ellison brought a law suit against its production company, Hemdale, and the distributor, Orion Pictures. The case was settled for an undisclosed amount, and the credits for The Terminator now include a line that says "Acknowledgement to the works of Harlan Ellison."

James Cameron fervently denies any plagiarism ever took place.

Poltergeist (1982)
Episode 91 of The Twilight Zone was called Little Girl Lost. It was based on a short story by Richard Matheson, first published in The Shores of Space in 1953. In his story the parents of a little girl are woken in the middle of the night to find their daughter has gone missing from her bed. She has fallen through a portal in her bedroom to become trapped in a strange and unsettling, alternate dimension. Although by no means the entirety of the plot to Poltergeist, rumour has it the two stories shared enough similarities to prompt Matheson to get in touch with Spielberg (who produced Poltergeist, and, it is said, possibly even co-directed it^^).

It is thought Matheson was subsequently hired as a writer on the Spielberg produced Twilight Zone: The Movie, not just for continuity, but also to discourage any potential lawsuits.

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
And finally, if you're one of the few people who reads this blog regularly, you might already be aware that Raiders is thought to have been loosely based on an old Charlton Heston film.

In Secret of the Incas (1954), Heston plays roguish adventurer Harry Steele, looking for golden treasure in the Peruvian jungles. Throughout the film he wears a brown felt fedora, a beaten-up leather jacket and khaki trousers, and is often seen sporting light stubble, carrying a satchel, and wielding a revolver. He frequents tough drinking holes, flies light aircraft, and explores ancient tombs, where shafts of light reveal hidden locations.

The Wikipedia page for Secret of the Incas states that Raiders’ costume designer, Deborah Nadoolman (wife of director John Landis), said the inspiration for Indiana’s outfit came directly from Secret of the Incas: “We did watch this film together as a crew several times, and I always thought it strange that the filmmakers did not credit it later as the inspiration for the series.

*Reprinted in 2000AD prog 612.
**Now that the most recent Cloverfield film, The Cloverfield Paradox, has been released on Netflix, it is generally thought to act as a prequel to the earlier two (Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane), tying them together in a single universe. Or perhaps, more accurately, multiple parallel universes.
^Métal Hurlant Chronicles, although less than ten years old as a television show, actually dates back to the 1970s with its roots as a science-fiction anthology comic, co-created by the artist Jean Giraud, better known as Moebius, and later published in the United States as Heavy Metal.

^^It's a long story. You can read about it here.