Saturday, 28 November 2015

An interview with Craig Randall, founder of Bitzbox

Hi Craig. You run the website Bitzbox, a supplier of individual plastic parts from Games Workshop kits. What gave you the idea to start up this site?
I was only 19 when I first started Bitzbox and didn’t have much experience behind me apart from working as a self employed web developer for a while. Ironically at this time I wasn’t really into the hobby. My friends stopped playing when we went to college and I still had loads of spare bits lying around from over the years of collecting so I thought I would use my web development skills to create a website to sell them on. At the time there was no one in the UK selling bits online and only Battlewagon Bits in North America.

Forge World's Roboute Guilliman, from Craig's personal collection

I notice you already have parts from the new plastic Horus Heresy game, Betrayal at Calth, up on your site. More and more product is moving into the plastics area. What effects does this have on your business?
The amount of plastic kits has increased so much since I first started and that has been fantastic from a business point of view. There are downsides of course, such as trying to keep so many different products in stock and finding space for them all. I have pretty much stopped selling any large monsters, vehicles and flyers due to lack of space and they are also not very profitable. Smaller kits are much easier to store and I have plenty of room for many more releases.

Do you run Bitzbox alone, or are there others who help?

The business is owned and run by myself mostly. When the company was first started it was a partnership between myself and my best friend who I also ran a web development business with. After about 3-4 years he left to do his own thing, but we are still great friends. I have a volunteer who does a few hours each week. My girlfriend works at a school so she doesn’t work during school holidays and usually ends up giving me a hand with work. My social media is mainly handled by my friend Wayne who also films battle reports for our YouTube channel. Running Bitzbox is my 9-5 job so with the amount of orders and stock that requires cutting off sprues each week I just about manage to fit all the required tasks in but as we continue to grow I will certainly be looking into hiring more helpers.

Another model from Craig's personal collection

Got any tips you’d like to share?
In regards to modelling and painting almost everything I’ve learned recently has just been from blogs and YouTube tutorials. It’s amazing how much we can learn online these days. I don’t consider myself an amazing painter but I like to think my quality is just above tabletop standard. When it comes to running a business you just have to have patience. I wasn’t taking any money from Bitzbox for the first 2-3 years and was lucky to be in a position that I didn’t need to rely on it’s income. It usually takes a while to really get up and running but there’s so many great online communities in this hobby that it’s not too difficult to start getting your name out there. Also when you work for yourself I think it’s best to get into a routine so you don’t start getting lazy or end up putting things off.

Many games companies are based in Nottingham. Are you in that neck of the woods? Does your location confer any benefits or leave you at any disadvantage?
Bitzbox is based in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk so we’re a good few hours away from Nottingham. The wargaming scene around here is quite large though and I’ve met loads of wargamers through the local game stores. It’s certainly a benefit having so many local wargamers as many of them have been customers at one time or another.

Do you go to conventions?
I have never been to any conventions. I’ve had plenty of invites to set up stalls but I don’t think it’s that feasible for my type of business. If I do go to one in the future it will just be as a regular Joe.

Craig's Harlequin Wraithknight

How did you first get into the miniature war-gaming hobby?
I first got into the hobby when I was about 10. One of my friends from school was into 40K and he got me into it. He had Orks, Dark Eldar and Tyranids and we used to play games with his miniatures to begin with. I remember my dad getting me the Warhammer 5th edition box set (with Lizardmen and Bretonnians) for Christmas and then for my birthday a couple of months later he bought me my first 40K models, the 7 man metal Chaos Space Marine squad and 5 Chaos Terminators. I then got other models such as Khorne Berzerkers, Kharn and Abaddon for that army. My cousin also got into the hobby at the time and had a really nice Dark Eldar army. Over the next few years several of my friends would get into the hobby and we had loads of games of 3rd edition 40K in my garage.

Do you still pursue gaming and modelling as a hobby today?
Absolutely. I love the painting and converting aspect of the hobby. I do try to game when I can too. I have several 40K armies. My largest is my Chaos Space Marines and Chaos Daemons. I also have Space Marines, Orks, Tyranids and Eldar. And I play a little bit of Malifaux and am now getting into the Horus Heresy stuff too.

Imperial Knight Warden from Craig's collection

It sounds like you're more into 40K than Warhammer Fantasy Battle. What other sci-fi and fantasy inspires you?
Weirdly I love fantasy universes more than sci-fi on the whole but in regards to wargaming about 95% of it is 40K. I never really got into Warhammer Fantasy much but have started playing Age of Sigmar. I’ve always been a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and love The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. I’m also a big fan of Game of ThronesI do love sci-fi too. I love Aliens and the original Star Wars trilogy plus many others. Both genres are great but I think I prefer to see a good sword fight. Star Wars is great at offering that in a sci-fi setting which is why I love the films so much. I don’t play video games as much as I used to when I was younger. I tend to lean towards games like the Final Fantasy series, SkyrimGTA V and Fallout 4 these days. I like games I can sink hours into.

A video game inspired Ork Meganob?

Interesting point about Star Wars being a fantasy film in a science fiction setting. Which scene from the Star Wars series would you say is your favourite or most memorable?
For me the moment that stands out the most in the Star Wars saga is at the end of Return of The Jedi when Vader kills Emperor Palpatine. Vader was a great villain throughout the whole trilogy but during that scene we start to see a side of him that shows remorse and although "he’s more machine now than man" and he’s fallen to the dark side, in the end it’s his human emotions that win. Even with his helmet on you can sense the pain Vader feels from seeing Luke on the verge of death from the hands of Palpatine.

Just a few days now until the release of the next instalment. The excitement is mounting. But talking of the future, what would you say it holds for you? What plans do you have?
My house came with a large extension that was unfinshed that I always planned to use for the business. This is now being worked on and I hope to have the renovations done by the new year. This will see me being able to increase storage space for Bitzbox as well as be a really cool gaming area (hopefully). I want to eventually hire some helpers so we can stock loads more and quicker too. Our YouTube channel has really grown over the last year also and we’re going to be working even harder to bring more bat reps and other videos over the next few months as we really enjoy making them. Next September will also mark 10 years of Bitzbox so something very special will be happening then I’m sure.

Craig, thank you for taking time out to speak to me, much appreciated. Craig's site, Bitzbox, can be found here.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Guns and skulls

It has just occurred to me that if someone put a gun to your head and demanded, on pain of having your living room redecorated with brains, that you summarise the entire Warhammer 40,000 universe in just a few words, replying 'guns and skulls' might just see you survive.

Ignoring the fact that if you weren't in your living room at the time it would be hugely inconvenient for the gunman, the thought does add a little extra relevance to the models I want to share today.

I've been struggling to work on my Arbites squad of late, nothing new there, so I figured, in the meantime, I'd present some more stuff from my city project. These are basically models from the WH40K universe that I find interesting, that aren't affiliated with any particular army, and that it wouldn't be too weird to see on or around the streets of an Imperial hive city - in this case Kruenta Karoliina Arx Rotunda.

For no logical reason I've chosen to start with the skulls. Servo-skulls. These ones include some of the Forge World models, various Games Workshop kits and the tracked one from the Space Hulk boxed game.

The automated gun platforms have a similarly mixed heritage. The one on the left is from Forge World, but the one on the right comes from two different places. Its track unit is taken from an out-of-production character from Micro Art Studio's Iron Brotherhood range, while the magnetised turret was created from the weapon arm of an old Games Workshop metal dreadnought.

There was a little chopping and glueing involved with that mobile platform, but essentially none of these models took very long to construct. Which is a good thing when you see how laboriously slow I am at getting anything done.

And if you'd like to see just how laboriously slow I am at getting anything done you can review the meagre entirety of my city project to date by clicking here.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Judgement day

There's cause for celebration in my house today. Or at least in the corner of my house where I play with tiny bits of plastic. It's because I've finally finished building the first five of my 'Judge Dredd' style Arbites Enforcers. It's been a long slog, but generally I've enjoyed working on this project. If, for some reason you are remotely interested you can find all the earlier stages here. Although, to be fair, there's still plenty more work to be done until it's completely finished. I guess the reality is I'm only about half way through, but hush now child, let's not ruin the moment.

'Judge Dredd' style Arbites Enforcers. Not what I'd call instant justice

Also, if you've been following any of this, or if you just clicked on the link above, you may be wondering what happened to the other two troopers. 

In my last related entry I mentioned some other weapons that I was going to have to build from scratch. Here's a photo showing the tiny amount of progress I've made since then. If you couldn't before, you should now be able to tell what it's all going to be.

That's right, it's more tiny bits of plastic

Once I've finished these last two guys, then I've only got to build that bike I promised (way back here). Just a few arms and a simple little bike standing between me and the painting stage. Or maybe two bikes. Shall we say two? Okay, two.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Giant Robo Alphabot, part three

I mentioned in an earlier post that when I originally made the list of entries for my robot alphabet I wanted them all to be robotic vehicles with some sort of transport capacity - what are often referred to as walkers. It proved too tricky to find decent entries for every letter so I had to open up the criteria to include large robots as well. But even this left me with a few entries that didn't quite conform. By the time I had the final list of robots for inclusion I was no longer completely sure what the unifying factor was. 

I was thinking about this earlier and I realised that all the robots or robot-like vehicles have at least one of these two features:

• The ability to carry a person or people

• Advanced offensive capabilities

That shouldn't have surprised me as I'm a big fan of the heavy-duty military aesthetic. I've noticed it runs through a significant proportion of my model making, and I'm pretty sure I've mentioned it elsewhere on this blog. So, with that said, here are two more robots from my alphabet which exemplify the above criteria and really embody that military aesthetic.

Monday, 9 November 2015

I predict a weapons fit

The last time I posted about my 'Dredd' style Arbites Enforcers project, I talked about creating replica shoulder pads for the whole team. Since then I've been trying to integrate the pads and continue to add arms and weapons. Needless to say progress has been its usual slow self.

There's going to be a mix of equipment throughout the squad, taking a vague lead from the various official Arbites and Enforcer releases of days gone by (some of which can be seen here and here). Therefore most of my weapons will be quite standard: shotguns, bolters and a grenade launcher. However there's one other weapon fit that's causing me some problems. I want two of my characters to be holding equipment that I just can't find decent proxies of. I've looked through plenty of sprues, and at other manufacturers, but I can't find anything that quite matches what I have in mind. So I've decided to try to make my own.

For the first of the two items I started with an old bottle of shampoo. I cut the top off to get a better understanding of how thick the plastic is and check that it's what I'm after, then cut out a strip to work with.

For the other item I scoured existing kits, looking for something I could work with. I eventually found these hammers on Bitzbox, so I bought three different ones to give myself some choice. They aren't the weapon I want, but I'm hoping they'll be a good place to start. Any idea where I'm going with this?

Incidentally, on the subject of Bitzbox, their website has recently undergone a redesign. The navigation is easy, their stock levels are up, and from order to delivery was only a matter of days. If you're in the UK, I can strongly recommend these guys. And I don't even have shares in their company.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

An interview with Curtis Fell, founder of Ramshackle Games

How did you first get into the miniature war-gaming hobby?
I started model making from as early as I can remember, working up to Airfix plane kits at about 8. This was back in the Humbrol Enamel days. My mother bought some Citadel models for me and my brother in about 1985 and I was hooked from there. I played some Warhammer and saved my pocket money for the release of Warhammer 40,000 in 1988. Fortunately, acrylic paint had come in by then too!

How did you refine your sculpting skills and learn to cast up models?
I studied animation at Uni, and got a job in the model making department at Aardman Animations after I left. I had been working on my Orc army for several years at that point, and had cast out some boar riders that I had sculpted myself. This impressed the Aardman crew. I learned better casting and mould making techniques as well as very disciplined sculpting there. I worked on Chicken Run, both as model maker and assistant animator. Although the plasticine sculpts look simple, getting the consistency right requires a lot of intensive sculpting and is very opposed to my own style of sculpting.

One of Curtis's illustrations from Nuclear Renaissance supplement, The Tome of Tridlins

Was it the sculpting that made you want to set up Ramshackle Games? When did you do that?
After working at Aardman I moved to Nottingham to work on video games as an animator. I worked on Time Splitters 2 and 3 as well as Second Sight for a company called Free Radical Design. I also started doing Viking reenactment, and lost the sight in one eye whilst practicing my sword fighting! I got hit in the face with a sword. They were very surprised at the hospital! If you get stabbed with a blade longer than 2 inches then you get priority treatment. When they said it was a 22" blade the staff got me a doc real quick. I decided to leave Free Radical after that and start out on my own. I prefer to work for myself.

Not many people can say they've been wounded in a sword fight! Did you ever get the sight back in your eye?
No, I am still blind in one eye. It has advantages as well as disadvantages.

The Battle Dog tank from Ramshackle Games 

Do you run Ramshackle alone, or are there others who help?
I run Ramshackle Games myself, but I have had a lot of help from many friends. I hang around with lots of model makers, both in real life and online. People are often prepared to submit sculpts or vehicles to me for casting. I am always open to submissions and supply copies of any model donated to me to the maker. So if anyone wants to get their models cast out please let me know! The guy that did the closest work with me, Leo Blackband, now runs the quality control for Finecast. He is a great worker and covered my paternity leave for me. After I came back, I recommended him to Games Workshop and they gave him the job. Several of my vehicles are made by him, and also Gill Harrison who helped me out A LOT at the beginning.

What technical details or tips can you share with us?
The main tip I can give for casting and mould making is get a vacuum chamber! This is a metal drum with a pump attached. The pump sucks out trapped air bubbles. I cant really give many sculpting tips, other than practice practice practice! Because I do every part of running Ramshackle, I have to be a bit of a 'jack of all trades', which in the end means 'master of none!' I want to provide characterful gaming models for a fair price, and I think I do this.

Another of Curtis's illustrations

I think you do that too. You’re based in Nottingham. Do you find there are any advantages or disadvantages to being near Games Workshop, Mantic etc?
Its fairly easy to meet gamers and other people in the business, plus people are very enthusiatic. I have had some good advice. I do have friends at other companies, but it doesn't seem to get me any work.

The Nuclear Renaissance range is your primary seller, right? It looks to have been inspired, at least in part by the Mad Max films. How did you feel about George Millar revisiting Mad Max with the recent release of Fury Road?
I have always liked cyberpunk and post apoc. Of course Mad Max is a huge inspiration, but I think Fist of the North Star has been more significant to me really. The new Mad Max film is just like the old ones. Silly, funny, brutal and simple. Great to watch, totally unrealistic. Full of plot holes but compelling and vivid! I do prefer number 2 though. The new one has less in it for me. Although the film making technical ability is higher, the frankly daft plot is nowhere as well condensed as number 2. Number 2 does everything it needs to do. 3 adds some more sillyness, which I feel is just extended to 4.

And, talking of movies, Alien or Aliens?
Ha, Alien 4. I really like Jean-Pierre Jeunet as a director. In regards to your question though, both are great films. I see them as related. I prefer the second one, as it's just more epic and has richer character and dialog. Better for quotes!

The steampunk inspired Vole light tank

What else has inspired you?
Bits form everywhere. Comics - I really like Niel Gaiman and Alex Ross. For authors I'd say Asimov, Heinline and Philip K Dick. I don't mind TV shows but prefer films, they seem more serious. My favourite series would be Everyone Hates Chris, but I guess most influential would be Red Dwarf! I play loads of tabletop games, and my favourite is Nuclear Renaissance, written by me! Ha, probably Necromunda is my favourite. I used to play a lot of video games before I had kids. I grew up with stuff like Age of Empires, so love multiplayer strategy games. I enjoy paintball but it's a bit expensive for me.

You’ve run a few Kickstarter campaigns which have all successfully funded. What has that process taught you, and will you continue to use the medium?
KS is great. For me I hope this is the future of funding for everything. At the moment, it is too easy to abuse, but as it becomes more normal I'm sure regulations on it will be tightened up. I don't have to worry about that though as I always deliver as promised! It's a great platform to get stuff seen and get sales. It's also amazing that the funding is up front. I tend to put in the work, get everything made before I commit to a KS project. I feel that it's just to raise the funds for production. To be respectable the project maker has to show that they are willing to do work before asking for money. The same as with any credible investment. I think in the future people will become more wary of backing companies they don't 100% trust.

One of the robots from a recent Ramshackle Games Kickstarter campaign

Do you still pursue gaming and modelling as a hobby, and if so, what do you play, build or paint?
I play Nuclear Renaissance and other games. I have a bunch of sci-fi and fantasy forces. I have a large Orc army made with my own range. It's 100 orc archers backed up by warmachines, wizards and giants. It's a fun army for Warhammer. I tend to play older versions at the moment. I'm a big fan of the Oldhammer movement. I also like games and models through the ages, so please check out Middlehammer on Facebook. It's a great page for general Warhammer related stuff. I also sometimes go to Slayer Gaming in Mansfield, where I played in a big game of modern WH40K with my future human military army made from my own figures. I also joined an Inquisimunda campaign recently with a bunch of guys at Warhammer World. Great fun! I enjoy gaming for the fun of it and don't want to get too serious! I am also tight with spending on my hobby, which is the main reason I learned to sculpt, so I didn't have to pay high prices for models! I build what I want to build for Ramshackle, so my hobby is my job. I'm very lucky in that respect. I can just make whatever I fancy.

The Anti Air Cannon

Very lucky indeed. What plans do you have for the future?
I've just released a set of 20mm conversion parts for doing up your Hotwheels or Matchbox cars as post apoc vehicles. It's drivers, passengers, guns and armour plates. I'm also putting the finishing touches on a project - a set of post apoc dwarf bikers. It will be able to be a gang with mixed armour and styles, or set up as a military force with uniforms. This will be a Kickstarter project too.

I look forward to it. Many thanks for taking the time to talk to me.