Wednesday, 30 September 2015

A little something extra

I had an unexpected bonus yesterday when I left my office and a small fleet of prop cars from movies were parked there. I'm assuming they're replicas, as I think it was part of some kind of Lego promotion, but I never got to the bottom of it because I was too excited, running around taking terrible pictures.

Monday, 28 September 2015

The Warhammer connection

With the recent release of Warhammer Age of Sigmar I've rekindled my interest in the underlying link between the Warhammer Fantasy Battle (WFB) world and the Warhammer 40,000 (WH40K) universe.

Games Workshop (GW) released the first edition of their tabletop miniatures game, Warhammer Fantasy Battle, back in 1983. Four years later, in 1987, they made the jump into science fiction with the release of Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader. By this time WFB was on its third edition, and both it and the new sci-fi game were put on the market as deluxe, hardback books.

With the two games side by side, the inevitable comparisons and conjecture began. Theories started to develop about the relationship between their settings. And as further editions of each game were released, in a kind of tandem dance across the decades, the background material developed - and occasionally changed - and things only got more complicated.

Over the years there have been a handful of fan theories offering different opinions on the relationship between the games. Some of them seem unlikely, some appear very well-informed, others make good sense, and one or two are the kind of thing you really want to believe. Here's my round-up of the six most important theories to date:

1) The different game systems exist on the same timeline, WFB in the distant past, WH40K in the far future. Thus the sword-wielding Orcs of the fantasy game may be the antecedents of the gun-toting Orks of WH40K, while Elves carrying bows, living in magic forests might be the forebears of the interstellar Eldar, cruising through the Webway on their Craftworlds. At one time this theory seemed the most plausible, especially given the obvious fact that WFB looks like the past and WH40K looks like the future. However nowadays, in the light of hugely expanded backstories, it is probably the least likely to be true. The most oft-quoted contradictory example being that if the Chaos God Slaanesh was born at the fall of the Eldar in the 30th Millennium, he can't possibly have been present during the time of Elves, somewhere in our ancient history.

2) As above, the two games are on the same timeline, but in this iteration WH40K comes first. This means the fantasy game is a kind of regression that happens in the future's future. The universe burns itself out, leaving primitive versions of the main races (along with a bunch of newly evolved or previously unencountered species) duking it out on the WFB world, where most of the technology has been lost. As unlikely as this may at first sound, it does square quite a few of the facts that make the previous theory so difficult to believe. It also tallies with the mentions, that have popped up from time to time over the last 30 years, of old and forgotten technology existing on the WFB world - the most infamous of which being the Treasures of the Old Ones, discovered at the end of the Dark Shadows/Isle of Albion campaign. You can read about them here, but essentially they sound a lot like WH40K armour, weapons and devices, found on a island in the Warhammer world. 

3) There is no relationship. The two game systems are separate and distinct. The Fantasy Battle game is set in a mythical, Tolkienesque past and WH40K is set in a make-believe distant future. The original Rogue Trader was merely a sci-fi analogue of WFB, and most of its races were just copies of the fantasy archetypes, given more futuristic technology. At best this makes the original WH40K an attempt to give the pre-existing fantasy gamers a set of familiar characters to inhabit the unfamiliar, more advanced setting. At worst it makes it a tongue-in-cheek joke trying not to simply add the word 'space' before all the original race names. The theory is most evident when you compare WFB's Vampire Counts and Tomb Kings armies to the Necrons of WH40K. Though clearly different, the Necrons - soulless, skeletal, robotic, alien beings - appear, at least superficially, a lot like the re-animated corpses of the Undead.

4) The two systems occupy parallel/alternate universes, a single timeline that diverged into two at some point in history. Thus in one continuum the Fantasy Battle game exists, but in the other, where different decisions were made, it led to the development of the WH40K timeline. This is really convenient for the writers and game developers as it is a 'best of both worlds' solution. The universes are both present at the same time, yet need never connect. Writers can pretty much invent anything they like - links that seem incontrovertible or evidence that goes the other way and utterly disproves any affiliation - and it's all down to differences in the timelines. It's a common trick in movie reboots, with the Terminator and Star Trek franchises springing to mind as recent culprits. 

5) The fantasy medieval world of WFB is located somewhere within the WH40K universe: perhaps a once-human planet, long forgotten by mankind, isolated from the Imperium inside a warp anomaly like the Eye of Terror. This theory seems to have been quite popular in the past, and some say that Games Workshop may even have originally suggested it in their 1988 book, Slaves to Darkness. If you have any reference to that I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.

6) And finally, less of a theory in its own right, more of an addendum to some of the above. Could WFB's warrior-God, Sigmar, be revealed as one of the two missing Primarchs from WH40K? Is the twin-tailed comet seen at his birth really the gestation chamber that he was growing inside when all the Primarchs were flung across the universe? Perhaps his journey was confused by the warp, leaving him in a different era, effectively isolated from the rest of WH40K. Or could he be the Emperor himself, maybe in a 30K setting or earlier? If any of this were true it would certainly go some way to explaining why Sigmar's forces of Stormcast Eternals so closely resemble Space Marines or Custodians.

A Stormcast Eternal, a Blood Angel Space Marine and warriors of the Adeptus Custodes. Notice any similarities?

What's interesting about the Stormcast Eternals, regardless of whether they really are the Emperor's finest, is that the old provenance has been reversed. It's not WFB offering archetypes for WH40K to adapt, it's the other way around. The science fiction characters are now being given fantasy equivalents, even down to the statues outside GW's head office. Could this be seen as a sign that something has changed in the relationship between the games? If so, it plays neatly with a theory of my own. More on that in a future post.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Prop Store Memorabilia Exhibition 9th - 23rd September

I've just returned from a quick trip to the ODEON BFI IMAX in Waterloo, London to see the Prop Store's memorabilia exhibition. It's for their forthcoming auction, taking place tomorrow. I just got in there before they take the whole show down, and I'm very pleased I went. As a model maker, movie fan and sci-fi fanatic this show reaches out to me in so many ways.

The exhibition is small enough to fit in the cinema's atrium, yet the Prop Store have somehow managed to cram in over 250 interesting, exciting, often recognisable, and occasionally classic movie and TV props. And if you're really into this kinda thing, you can even bid in tomorrow's auction with a view to taking them home with you.

But if you're not a fan of parting with huge sums of money, then the exhibition itself is completely free to wander around. So if you happen to be in the area in the few hours you've got left before it closes, then I strongly recommend a quick trip.

Here are my highlights. Muchos kudos to anyone who can name them all.

If you're interested in bidding, try this link or visit before the 23rd September 2015.

Monday, 21 September 2015

The Giant Robo Alphabot, part one

After mentioning the ABC Warrior, Hammerstein, in my previous post, now seems like a good time to introduce a side project I've been working on. It's an A to Z of giant robots and mechanised walkers from comics, video games, films and any other media I can get my hands on. 

The plan is to present 26 of my favourite robots, each representing a letter from the alphabet, with each pairing of robot and letter being both a poster in its own right, and part of a greater whole. Thus, when they're all finished, they can be combined together to form a single, larger poster showcasing the entire alphabet.

In no particular order, other than the first poster I made was 'M is for Mecha' and, in the light of my last entry, Hammerstein seems relevant right now, here are two of the completed designs:

I told myself I was doing it as an interesting learning aid for my kids (the poor blighters are doomed to be into geek stuff), but there are four facts that might dispute this stance:

1) My kids are still way too small to give any kind of damn about learning.

2) My kids are still way too small to give any kind of damn about things that aren't fluffy toys, cartoons with animals, expensive and easily breakable objects that don't belong to them, edible foodstuffs or non-edible thingamajigs which are small enough to fit in their mouths.

3) Some of the robots on the final list are a little scary-looking, and I have a feeling if the missus knew I'd shown the kids, she would get a little scary-looking too.

4) And the clincher, this project dates back to before I even figured on being a dad. Back to when I didn't want the responsibility of looking after tiny people that weren't made of plastic or resin.

So, as much as I'd like to claim otherwise, it's unlikely that I started this project with the kids in mind. It's pretty obvious I did it for me. I guess I was trying to scratch some kind of nerd-fuelled, obsessive, creative itch, that my thousands of unpainted wargaming miniatures somehow weren't reaching. There are two other telltale signs that the main person I was trying to please was myself:

1) The selection criteria for the 'bots was basically whatever appealed to my tastes at the time. Thus, for example, with my design preference for ominous, dangerous-looking machines, and the fact that the original version of The Day the Earth Stood Still scared me witless as a child (watching reruns after school), but I never saw Forbidden Planet, Gort made it in, but Robby the Robot didn't. 

2) I wanted to write about the characters as I like to believe they existed. ie. with a little artistic licence. So Hammerstein was definitely the robot in Judge Dredd, and he definitely fought the Judges at the Battle of Armageddon, even though that story seems to have since been ret-conned out of continuity. There are plenty of other examples of me massaging the truth, but you'll have to spot them as I reveal the continuing work.

Also, seeing as I've turned this entry into lists of numbered bullet points, there are a couple of confessions I have to make:

1) I had to tweak the odd name, within what I felt to be reasonable limits, in order to find a suitable entry for all 26 letters. So, for example, Robot Probes designed to mine Quantonium (from the animated film Monsters vs. Aliens), became Quantonium Robot Probes. That kind of thing.

2) I originally wanted this to be a list, or possibly a glossary, of walkers or piloted robot suits. That's why I started with mecha. But the focus was too narrow and I soon found myself struggling to find entries for every letter. So I opened it up to include regular robots as well. Surprisingly, it was still quite difficult to find entries for a whole bunch of letters that you'd imagine would lend themselves to the names of robots: Q (see above), X and Y spring to mind. You'll see what I settled upon as I get more images posted here.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Sly versus Urban. The Dredd Wars

Popular opinion tells us that:

a) The film Judge Dredd (1995) starring Sylvester Stallone and directed by Danny Cannon was awful.

b) The film Dredd (2012) starring Karl Urban, written by Alex Garland and directed by Pete Travis was awesome.

I would like to tell you that neither of those things are true. Judge Dredd was not awful and Dredd was not awesome.

What you're about to read is, of course, simply my opinion, but if the internet runs true to form, there may be folk who don't want to hear this. Perhaps my position is too controversial, causing rage to bubble up inside them. They might want to spit that vitriol back at me, with insults, name calling and maybe even a bit of considered argument. And I welcome that. That's what the comments section below is for. But to those people can I ask one thing before the typing starts?

Please just hear me out.

Let's begin with Judge Dredd, the one starring Sly Stallone. This film takes a lot of stick. It gets ripped apart in just about every place where people like me (nerds) get together to discuss things like that (sci-fi and fantasy). But it's really not that bad. Okay, granted the script wasn't great. And the Fergee character was way out of place (not to mention seriously annoying, almost on a par with Jar Jar). And the dialogue pretty much sucked. And some of those lines had soul-crushing delivery ('I kneww youwd say dat'). But come on, it looked amazing.


And in my book amazing visuals count for a lot when you're discussing the visual arts. The ABC robot (not previously seen in the Dreddverse, but that all 2000AD fans knew as Hammerstein) was incredible. It was designed by Chris Halls, who had briefly drawn for 2000AD, before changing his name to Chris Cunningham and becoming an award-winning director of music videos for the likes of Bjork and Aphex Twin. His war robot must surely rank as one of the best movie droids to appear on celluloid (or whatever the pixel age equivalent is. Pixels, I suppose). And the robot wasn't generated in a computer program; Chris Halls actually made that thing. He also designed the prosthetic make-up for Mean Machine which was equally as brilliant, and frankly rather terrifying.

In another life these guys could have been friends

As well as the ABC Warrior and the Angel Gang, the film also included Fargo, the Cursed Earth, the Long Walk, Block Wars, the Grand Hall of Justice, Rico, cadet Judges, the cloning programme and a whole host of other exciting ideas from the comic. It was really quite epic in its sweep.

The city and most of the vehicles also looked fantastic. Straight out of the comic - like the original strip in three dimensional form. No mean feat as Judge Dredd was made the old way, before movies of this ilk routinely employed CGI and digital 3D rendering.

I said above 'most of the vehicles looked fantastic', so does that statement include the Lawmaster bikes? Sadly no. There was something awkward and ungainly about them, overly embellished beyond their functionality. I didn't hate them, they were neither good nor bad, just kinda m'eh.

M'eh, blah, bleh, whatever

Then there was Dredd's uniform. The skin-tight lycra was a misstep, but the eagle shoulder pad was very nicely realised, not straying too far from the comic. And his helmet, although he hardly wore it, really looked the part. When a character is practically defined by his headgear, you really have to get it right. At the very least it has to fit. And Stallone's helmet not only fit, but looked cool too. Fans complained bitterly that Stallone took the helmet off, but as I've already discussed in an earlier post, this isn't even something the comic prohibits. We're never meant to see Dredd's face (it's a metaphor for the facelessness of justice), but that's not the same as never removing the helmet. And besides, that's in the comic. Movies and comics are different media and what works in one, may not work in the other. If you put a lot of money into a niche project, using a famous face to open up the project to a wider audience, then that audience probably expects to see the famous face's face. What happens when the audience isn't satisfied? The film doesn't make enough money to justify a sequel.

And, talking of famous faces, as well as Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante and Diane Lane in the lead roles, we also got solid performances from sci-fi greats Max von Sydow and J├╝rgen Prochnow plus James Earl Jones doing a bit of portentous narration at the beginning.

So the film makes me cringe with regret for what it got wrong, but it also never fails to impress me with what it got right.

Now let's talk about Dredd. It's unquestionably a better film than the Stallone version. More serious in tone, in line with the current trend for reboots, with an ultra-violent take on life in Dredd's future city. Except that it isn't really Mega-City One at all. The city looks completely different. No soaring pedways hanging between the crammed city blocks with crazy names and crazier architecture. No twenty-lane meg-ways tearing through its heart. No Weather Control, no sector houses, almost nothing recognisable from the comic whatsoever. Instead we got a completely different take, with a seemingly under-funded Justice Department and characterless, monolithic city blocks dotted sporadically across an otherwise fairly normal-looking location. I'm not saying the city was bad. It wasn't, it was a very believable urban dystopia, but it wasn't the Mega-City One that Judge Dredd has spent nearly forty years establishing.

And the vehicles were a bit of a let-down too. In the opening scene the 'perps' were speeding away in an old camper van that would have looked more at home outside Granny McFeague's Post Office in Little Shittington. Dredd was chasing them on his Lawmaster, which, although it seemed to work convincingly, was not a great looking prop. Concept sketches from earlier in the production were far more interesting than the final hand-made-Adam-West's-Batmobile-on-two-wheels that made it into the film.

But to be honest the above points are minor gripes. I suspect that at least one of them is merely down to budgetary constraints. And as a fan of Judge Dredd, I would rather see a Dredd film made on a small budget, than no Dredd film at all.

And Dredd got a lot right. In fact I couldn't begin to write a comprehensive list of everything that was spot on. Or rather I could begin, but probably wouldn't finish it.  So instead I'll just pick out three points that prove I actually like this film, then get back to my argument about not liking it as much as everyone else.

1. The cinematography was fantastic, and the film looked great. The opening Lawmaster chase and Slo-Mo scene particularly stood out. The whole sequence pulled off the hard task of being fresh, exciting and beautiful, all at the same time.

The filming was so good I almost forgot I disliked the bikes. Almost

2. As I've already said in another post the redesigned Judges looked excellent. The decision to rationalise their uniforms made perfect sense, and the new look still owed much to established Dredd mythos.

3. The film's use of humour was pitched just right. The comic strip has always had a black humour to it, at its best using a lightness of tone or an occasional well-placed one-liner as counterpoint to the dark subject matter. And Alex Garland's dryly humorous script manages to capture this much better than the embarassingly clumsy attempts made by the earlier version. Here's a typical example:

Chief Judge: Sink or swim, chuck her in the deep end.
Dredd: It's all deep end.

So why didn't I love this film the way so many other fans seemed to love it? It's fairly straightforward. And it's not because near the beginning of the film, Dredd, when facing off against a thug holding a hostage like a human shield, chooses to fire a 'hotshot' bullet. What is that? Is it heat-seeking? Surely a bullet arbitrarily drawn to the nearest source of heat is the worst possible choice to fire at a perp hiding behind a nice, warm, innocent bystander?

No, that's just another quibble. The real reason I can't watch this film over and over again is much simpler. It essentially boils down to me finding the story too linear. Joe Dredd is so resolute and implacable, Alex Garland struggled to give him any kind of character ark, instead choosing to have the lesser character Anderson on the learning curve. So once the setup was established the viewer had a fairly good idea how it was going to end. The plot and the peril were laid out for us early on and then the story simply followed the path we were expecting. There weren't enough surprises and revelations, the events didn't unfold in unexpected ways, so the film was never elevated to it's deserved status. Dredd and Anderson were always going to:

• Outsmart the low level bad guys
• Face a dark moment that nearly ends them
• Use Anderson's psi power and Dredd's determination to win out
• Climb to the top of the building
• Kill Ma-Ma 
• Leave

You could almost have walked off halfway through and guessed the rest.

So it was a good film, that made some interesting tweaks and changes to established Dredd mythology, not all of them good, with some incredible set-pieces and lovely visual effects, which was let down by a predictable storyline that didn't explore enough unforeseen avenues.

Disagree? Over to you. Don't hold back. Give me hi-ex.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

More of the law

I've finally got something worth sharing on my 'Dredd' style Arbites Enforcers. Admittedly these are far from finished, but it's progress all the same. A couple of the reverse shots are out of focus, so please excuse my terrible photography. It's not my strong suit.

Cameras and I will never be good friends

Although we do continue to go on holiday together

In the top picture, there's the original test model, followed by two more Enforcers that I've given arms and weapons, but who still need shoulder and elbow pads. In the bottom picture are the next four, who are all still waiting for their upper limbs.

I ran out of Space Marine Scout legs, as you only get five in the box, so I had to find a couple of pairs of legs elsewhere. The legs on the guy holding the grenade launcher (top middle) are from the Tempestus Scions. These were fairly straightforward to use, although they look a little different to the scout's legs. I think I simply removed some of the rivets, smoothed down the peak on the armour plates, and was happy to assume that some uniforms are not 100% identical.

On the bottom pic the third chap in from the left has legs taken from the Cadians. But the Cadian legs are pretty unique and needed plenty of work. They had the bottom of a jacket hanging over the waist which I had to remove. Then the codpiece and the bum protector had to be added, plus a holster that I found in my bits box. But even with a fair bit of work the trousers still look a little baggy compared with the others.

The padded collars have been made with green stuff in a tentacle maker tool. I'll post a separate entry about the tentacle maker tool at some point in the future, but once the cables had dried I glued them in place, cut them down to size, and blended all the edges with more fresh green stuff. The keen-eyed will notice that I replaced the collar on my test model with one made using this new method.

I also changed the technique for creating the spine and back protectors. I decided it would be quicker and more effective to make these out of plasti-card, then use liquid poly to melt them into shape.

On top of the knee pads, back protectors, and neck braces, all seven characters have also had fairly extensive utility belts added. This is the fun bit as it requires next to no modelling or green stuff work, just a bit of trimming and glueing. To finish the belts off I stuck a Forge World etched brass imperial eagle on as a buckle.

I'm currently trying to pluck up courage to tackle the eagle shoulder pads. If only there was a nice, simple etched brass solution for these too. Adding them will be the most complicated part of the whole job and I still haven't worked out how to go about it. There are several methods on the table at the moment, but none of them are particularly appealing and none of them are fool proof. As is often the case, I'll just have to burn that bridge when I get to it.