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.


  1. Hey Torva. I'm intrigued - he says "No, I am still blind in one eye. It has advantages as well as disadvantages." What on earth are the advantages I wonder?
    And as for Aliens 4 - I'm guessing he didn't watch that with his good eye...

  2. But where are my manners? A nice piece. Keep it up.

  3. The advantages of one eye include:

    Being able to more easily ignore people who are on my blind side.

    Being able to sleep easily in well lit spaces. Simply turn with your blind side up and its totally dark. SO easy to sleep.

    Only having to clean one lens on a pair of glasses.

    The list goes on...

    1. Thanks for that Curtis. I was genuinely interested in your take on that. However, Aliens 4...

    2. Hey Louis, I gotta say that I'm with Curtis on Alien: Resurrection. Although it's not my favourite one of the franchise, it's a lot better than most of the stick it gets would suggest. I'd go as far as saying it's a great film, right up to just before Ripley has sex with one of the aliens and they give birth to the droopy-eyed-white-skull-face-beast. Until that point the film has fantastic props and sets, hard-bitten space pirates, a truly horrifying scene in the clone lab, aliens cold-heartedly sacrificing their weakest hive-brother for the acid blood, an underwater chase scene, and Ripley's excellent basketball skills. And it's no surprise. As well as a fantastic cast, the film has half of Jeunet et Caro (City of Lost Children) behind it, with script duties provided by Joss Whedon and some of the concept art done by Chris Cunningham (again working as Chris Halls - see my Dredd Wars article). In fact even after the film's lowest point with the human/alien hybrid, we get Ripley finally crashing back on Earth, several hundred years after the first Aliens were discovered. Imagine where that would have taken us had the franchise continued.