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.

Monday, 5 December 2016

The King is dead. Long live the King

I've wanted to write this post for some time. One of my favourite writers passed away a few years ago, and if I'd had this blog back then I probably would have written something straight away. Instead, as it turns out, I've had to wait until now, when I've finally had a chance to read his last book.

Iain Banks died in June 2013, but left a legacy of some 27 novels for the rest of us to enjoy forever. As with any great and prolific writer, it could be argued that this legacy gives him a certain degree of immortality. Certainly in the eyes of his many fans. Those of us who loved his writing can console ourselves that it will always be there.

But could there be significantly more to it than that? We'll come back to this in a minute.

This being a science-fiction blog I'm going to be looking at the books he wrote under the name Iain M. Banks. The M. makes a world of difference. Probably a galaxy. Under this name he writes the stories which fall most squarely into the science-fiction category.

And among his sci-fi stories it's the tales set in the Culture universe that are undoubtedly the most enigmatic.

It was clear from the first book, Consider Phlebas, set against the backdrop of a devastating intergalactic war with an aggressive alien race, that there was something special about the Culture. With their utopian, post-scarcity, seemingly-anarchic society, spanning much of the Milky Way, with no need for money, little need for physical work, no disease and no crime, it's easy to see the attraction. But for me, and I'm probably not alone, an equally compelling aspect of life in the Culture is their governance by advanced Artificial Intelligences, known as Minds: Super smart computers with a knack for comedy, and a benign compulsion to ensure freedom and equality for all. Indeed, coupled with the population's liberal inclination, it's the leadership of the Minds which make most of the Culture's achievements possible.

In The Hydrogen Sonata, the last book Banks wrote before he died, elements of the Culture are focussed on an alien race preparing to move into a higher realm of existence – a kind of heavenly state – when they discover their entire transcendence may be based on a lie. It's a somewhat poignant tale, given the timing.

But now that I've finished it I'm feeling a sadness I wasn't expecting. Does this last book mean Banks' relevance has come to an end?

Banks was not just a fantastic writer, but clearly showed an affinity with social science too. The Culture novels aren't just loved for their technology, their plots and their understated wit, but for the potency and robustness of the very fabric supporting their future society.

Maybe Banks' real legacy was not the books, but the possible roadmap they've laid out for our future. It may sound ridiculous, but there's good reason to pursue this line of thought.

Back in 1994 Banks wrote a paper entitled A Few Notes on the Culture in which, among other things, he laid out the problems that his fictional sci-fi super-race would likely have had to face and overcome in their ascendance from something like us to their near-utopian existence. And although he felt the human race, our human race, was too immature and self centred to ever complete a journey like that, he as good as signposted much of the route.

From describing the necessity, when dealing with the vast distances of space, of some level of self-governing anarchy over centralised rule, and the need to be less wasteful than a free market economy relying on blind whim and the superfluity of excess product to stabilise itself, he goes on to talk about the really big one: The development of those benign Artificial Super Intelligences.

It could be the single largest obstacle in the whole process. The Minds are the cornerstone of the Culture's incredible society, and without them, that society wouldn't have amounted to much. With these artificial, yet so-very-active intelligences able to accomplish feats unthinkable to the collective sum of human consciousness, they would clearly be able to achieve things we could only dream of. Or, perhaps more accurately, things we can't even dream of.

As throwaway as that sounds it's actually part of an important concern that is becoming prevalent in the world we live in today. After all, the human race appears to be hurtling towards a point where real, high-level Artificial Super Intelligence could become a reality. No longer the stuff of science-fiction, low level AI's are already part of everyday science. And science is making rapid in-roads on the development of their high level cousins.

Tim Urban, writer of the blog Wait But Why, has written a shocking and eye-opening piece on the subject of real-life AI development. He has collated thoughts from several hundred of today's top Artificial Intelligence experts, condensing them down into easy to grasp segments and groups of opinion, while also aggregating timescales and dates, to create a probable timeline of the key stages leading to the birth of human equivalent artificial intelligence and beyond. 

The results are a little scary.

And not just the timelines. There are significant risks that come with the development of non-human intelligence. What if the new machines decide organic life is a threat to artificial life? As a theme it sounds like pure science-fiction, but according to Urban and his experts this is something we need to take extremely seriously. A single Super AI programmed the wrong way could be an existential disaster for the whole of mankind.

Banks describes Culture AIs as being "designed to want to live, to want to experience, to desire to understand, and to find existence and their own thought-processes in some way rewarding, even enjoyable." But desires like these will most likely need to be programmed into machines during their earliest design stages.

It's no wonder that people like Elon Musk, technology entrepreneur, sometimes referred to as the real-life Tony Stark (Iron Man), and a top level investor in Vicarious, a company trying to build computers with neural networks similar to the human brain, feel strongly about this. Musk recently called for serious regulatory oversight on AI development at an international level.

With Musk I find it particularly telling that two of his early SpaceX rockets were named after Minds from the first Culture novel. He, or someone high up in his company, has clearly been reading Banks, and it's likely they're a fan. Does this point to the fact that at least one player in the game of AI development is using Banks' benign Minds as part of his preferred end-goal?

Does it mean that real-life is taking its cue from science fiction? Could it be similar to the way William Gibson predicted the rise of the internet in his novel Neuromancer, only for his ideas to influence the way we went on to use it?

Tim Urban's article is unashamedly long form and may take a good while to read, but I can assure you it will be a good while. It's fascinating information that everyone should be made aware of. If Urban and his experts are even half right, our world is likely to change dramatically, in a paradigm shift greater than anything ever experienced before. And it's likely to happen surprisingly soon.

I won't say when that is likely to be, but suffice to say if I start jogging and maybe change some of my naughtier dietary habits, I might be alive to see it.

But why would the invention of Artificial Intelligence be so shocking? Clearly it's more than just an artificial version of something we're all born with. I said Artificial Intelligences would be able to accomplish things we can't even dream of, and Urban's article expands on that, going into just enough detail to make it fascinating without becoming impenetrable. It also takes into account all sorts of captivating, related theories, including human immortality, nanotechnology, the Fermi paradox and human extinction.

I won't say any more for fear of ruining Urban's article. Or worse, making a terrible hash of it.

For anyone remotely interested in human achievement, things like taming fire, inventing the wheel, or landing on the moon, then you really need to read Urban's article, The AI Revolution. I don't think I'm overcooking the significance of the affect this is likely to have within our lifetimes.

For fans of The Culture, who haven't yet read Banks' real world thoughts on the subject, I urge you to read A Few Notes on the Culture . At its very worst its a chance to reacquaint yourself with Banks' gentle, yet politically charged humour.

But when you take Urban's article together with the one from Banks it starts to form an interesting picture of life imitating art, and the challenges our world is likely to face. We get a behind-the-curtain glimpse of the role science fiction plays in determining our future. And if people like Elon Musk can keep things on track, it starts to become clear how Iain M. Banks may well live on forever.

Friday, 25 November 2016

An interview with Jake from Ex Profundis

Today we are talking to Jake, aka Bruticus, from the modelling website, Ex Profundis, which hosts collections of miniatures, art and fiction from the darker sides of the Warhammer universes.

Hi Jake, thanks for taking the time to speak with me. Let's dive right in. Do you remember your very first miniature? Do you still have it?

Heroquest and Space Crusade were my introduction to Games Workshop (GW) and the first things I painted were either the Heroquest figures or a friend’s RTB01 Space Marines, back in the early 90s. After that I bought a little of everything, starting with some of the fantastic Kev Adams Night Goblins and Jes Goodwin High Elves – I remember the Silver Helms in particular really got me hooked. After a few happy years of buying all the miniatures, I sold off my collection. And then inevitably about five years ago I proceeded to buy it all back at grossly inflated prices when some friends put together a Necromunda game out of the blue. I tend not to do things by half measures, and so things have since escalated.

Clearly you are hugely inspired by the modelling and painting side of the hobby, and you mentioned Necromunda, but do you play other games too?
I have played Inq28/Inquisimunda a lot in the last few years but nothing much recently. I’m nostalgic for the classic rulesets – the 40K 2nd Edition/Necromunda style, but also Epic and the various Specialist Games – that I used to play as a kid, but I’m also pretty much exhausted by giant rulebooks. I have been working on a few armies for Age of Sigmar that I hope to get some games with soon, plus I have several Epic armies and I’m certainly going to need at least one Blood Bowl team.

What Age of Sigmar armies have caught your attention? And how will you imbue them with the Ex Profundis style?
Pretty much every army has my attention now, with the exception of Fyreslayers. I like Fyreslayers more than traditional dwarves, but it’s like the Emperor’s new clothes: they are still just little hairy dudes, except now they are naked. I think being able to put a new spin on each faction is really cool, and GW has done a good job themselves – with their background for factions like the Flesh Eater Courts really demonstrating how moving from the Old World setting has allowed imagination to run riot. My primary interest is in creating a different take on factions that have potential, but where I have not liked the studio version – usually because it is too brightly coloured and too clean. My Stormcast were my first attempt at providing a darker alternative – Chaos and Aelves are next.

Stormcasts of the Immortal Tribunal and their distinctive porcelain enamelled armour

Is it true the other model makers and artists involved with Ex Profundis are not all friends from back home and that you’ve never physically met some of them?
The site is a joint venture between me and Rob (Meade). We noticed each other’s work on the Dakkadakka forum and decided we shared a similar aesthetic and mindset. Recently we have added new people to the site like Julian Bayliss, who was one of my biggest inspirations when I decided to take up my paintbrushes again, and Isaac (Weirdingway).

The Ex Profundis aesthetic is quite different to most of the standard miniature lines. But it has similarities with John Blanche’s Blanchitsu look. Have you met him?
I’ve been lucky enough to play a few games with John. Some of my earlier models were in Visions. I don’t try to copy John’s Blanchitsu style, but I try to imitate his mindset as far as I am able – most miniature painting is primarily concerned with painting inside the lines and being technically impressive: competition style or ‘Eavy Metal painting. I think Blanchitsu is more about being creative. Personally I also like to try and use a lot of texture, and darker tones.

The hereteks of House Sinekai with their gholams and chimerics

What was it like having your models appear in, arguably, the world’s most famous miniature-based gaming magazine?
I don’t think I have ever been happy with a finished miniature, and seeing them enlarged in photographs highlighted their flaws. It was exciting – and a great honour – but embarrassing. Mostly it motivated me to want to make better models.

I’ve not seen anything for you to be embarrassed about. How did the Ex Profundis look and feel start to develop?
As a kid it seemed to me that considering the 41st Millenium was mostly about war, the models are often pretty cheerful looking. I used to have a Mordian Iron Guard army that I painted to look like Great War trench soldiers - covered in mud and blood: this seemed far more appropriate than the bellhop uniforms they wore on the box. I think I am just doing the same sort of thing now.

The website name comes from the phrase ‘creatio ex profundis’ which means 'creation from the depths' or 'creation out of chaos'. It is intended to be evocative of Lovecraftian gods of the deep and the Chaos gods in the Aether. This sort of horror aesthetic is what I am most interested in communicating in my models – dark and creepy, and suitable denizens of a universe that is pretty keen on war.

Dissimbre, the Immortal Sword, Lord of Slaanesh

Was there an initial project that made you go ‘yeah, that’s the aesthetic I’m after’? Were there failed attempts before that?
My first Pit Slave gang worked out well: they were sort of a cross between Spartacus and Silent Hill. I tried to use more unusual kits as the base, and I tried painting them using more muted tones – oh and I discovered Tamiya Clear Red blood effects. I suppose this is when I started figuring out how to paint in a way I was happy with, rather than trying to emulate ‘Eavy Metal. Shortly after this, John Blanche got in touch to say he liked them, which I think really convinced me I was on the right track!

Models from Jake's second Pit Slave gang

A lot of the Torva Tenebris blog is about finding inspiration to start painting. Where does your inspiration come from?
I get inspired by all sorts of things and then I try to introduce them into the Warhammer setting in a sympathetic way – like Lovecraftian horror for example. I think a lot of hobbyists base their projects entirely on the (excellent) background ideas found in Games Workshop books, but I try to steer clear of that and find ideas elsewhere. I don’t want to do things that other people have already done, particularly if they have done them better than I could! Painting something like an Ultramarine sounds incredibily daunting to me – have you seen some of the Ultramarines out there? I would have nothing interesting to contribute.

Recently – with Age of Sigmar – I have been trying to introduce elements from my favourite fantasy: the manga Berserk, the art of Mike Mignola and some classic Adrian Smith barbarian style. There is a real shortage of dark fantasy fiction out there, but I get inspired by lots of authors from all sorts of genres: Thomas Ligotti, Laird Barron, Steven Erickson… too many to mention. Silent Hill is a constant source of ideas.

You mentioned Hellboy and the manga Berserk. Are there other comics and graphic novels that have inspired you?
There are too many to really do them justice talking about them here. For ideas, Grant Morrison is my favourite, he throws out ideas that just warp my perception of reality, and with such frequency. I love Junji Ito too.

A quick Google image search on the manga artist Junji Ito has just freaked me out, but I'll try to continue. I ask a film question in every interview, so let's run with the manga theme. Which movie is best, Akira or the original Ghost in the Shell?
Probably Akira. But in terms of classic animé, you can’t beat Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Big robots! Maybe some of that inspiration is coming through in your latest project, the Verminlord? How do you plan out a model? Do you start with an accurate idea of what you want to achieve, and work to a plan, or are you experimenting wildly throughout the creation of a new piece?
Sometimes inspiration will hit me when I see a new kit, or take another look through the Forgeworld website. I don’t work to a plan except for a pretty strong idea in my mind’s eye about what the finished thing ought to look like. I have a pretty extensive bits collection, so I get all the relevant parts out in front of me, and then spend a really long time trying things out with blu-tack until it clicks.

One of Jake's most recent creations: Rattendaemon, the mechanical Verminlord

Got any tips you can share?
Well my main goal is to make models that look different to anyone else’s. So I try to find unusual base models and donor kits, or I try to adapt a model in a way that hasn’t been done before – a good one is taking a 40K kit and changing it to a Fantasy model. The quality of the components you use is also really important – starting with something like a plastic Catachan is going to be an uphill struggle.

My best tip is to use lots of blu-tack and spend a long time getting the right pose. The pose is the most important thing in a conversion in my opinion, I often think about how to pose characters in the Marvel Comic style – oh and glue the head last – even a slight adjustment or tilt can totally change the feel of the figure. If the pose is weak then it doesn’t matter how good the bits you’ve chosen are, or how good the paint is, it will be an underwhelming model.

I’m with you on the pose thing, and your models always seem particularly expressive. Ex Profundis feels like a very polished brand. Well put together, clearly defined, occupying its own space within the hobby etc. It’s a strong platform. Do you have any plans to take it elsewhere? Ever thought about releasing your own miniatures? 

Yeah maybe. I mean, at the moment it's all tied in to the Games Workshop IP so there is no question of releasing miniatures or anything like that. I’d love to develop it further though. I think there is increasing awareness of this sort of Lovecraftian horror – and I don’t mean all the cheesy Cthulhu stuff that has popped up everywhere, I mean things that evoke what Lovecraft called existential horror or dread. Kingdom Death tapped into this vein and that did pretty well. 

At the moment we welcome contributions from anyone that thinks their work fits this horror theme or offers something unusual: miniatures, fiction, art, whatever. And I am sure we would welcome another contributor if their style fit.

That’s very exciting for all the horror-inspired modellers out there. I’m sure there are lots of people who would love their work to appear on your site, or to own some twisted Ex Profundis creatures or characters.

Jake, thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and insights, and good luck with all your forthcoming projects.

And to keep an eye out for Jake's forthcoming projects, or check out his and the other contributors' existing ones, including the mechanical Verminlord and all their other dark and disturbing creations, have a look at Ex Profundis here.

Friday, 18 November 2016

A touch of Foss

When we were kids being dragged around town on parental shopping expeditions, my brother and I would often attempt to break free and head for a bookshop. Not because we were insatiable consumers of the written word or anything. More like the opposite: we liked looking at pictures. So in those bookshops we headed straight to the sci-fi aisles to stare in rapt fascination at all the amazing covers with their images of huge starships, covered in patterns and graphics, cruising around the galaxy, towing asteroids, fighting off pirates or docking with glittering space stations.

It was only years later that I realised a significant proportion of these covers were painted by the same artist, Chris Foss.

Not only did Foss paint mind-blowing pictures for the covers of books, he also created concept art for several major movies. His first role in film was providing psychedelic hardware designs for Alejandro Jodorowsky's famous, but ill-fated adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune. While working on this project he met Dan O'Bannon and H. R. Geiger. The three of them later teamed up again to work on Ridley Scott's ground-breaking Alien (1979) where Foss helped design the Nostromo. He also worked on Superman (1978), Flash Gordon (1980), A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2000), and more recently on James Gunn's adaptation of the Marvel comic Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).

His work still looks amazing today, so if you're not familiar with it, and partial to a bit of awesomeness, then look at the images tab at the top of this Google search. Or even better, if you've got some spare cash, maybe grab a copy of this collected art book, a comprehensive retrospective of all his sci-fi work.

But why have I mentioned Chris Foss?

It's to do with my latest vehicle project, another model from Ramshackle Games, the rugged-looking Rhebok APC.

Foss usually painted his vehicles on a huge scale. Ships the size of ocean liners, and trucks large enough to tow them. Unfortunately, not only is it impractical for me to indulge in a modelling project of that scale, but you don't score many points with the missus when she has to clamber over a toy spaceship the size of a car just to get to her wardrobe.

So instead I've chosen to reference something else from his signature style.

Many of Foss's vehicles are painted in bright, almost garish colours, sporting large, geometric patterns covering much of their hulls. It's these vibrant, bold, super-graphics that I've tried to allude to in the paint scheme for my Rhebok.

To keep things simple, I chose an orange base colour and applied black caution stripes following the contours of the middle section. I then tempered everything with a little weathering so it doesn't feel too bright and garish (after all, it's not Eldar).

And besides, I wanted to ensure the finished tractor feels like it belongs to the same world as all my other models.

That world is Ancora Fornax, and the Rhebok model represents a civilian tractor found in one of the larger hive cities, Kruenta Karoliina Arx Rotunda. The caution stripes (not to mention the vehicle's general design and robustness) indicate some sort of industrial usage. Perhaps this tough-looking tug is involved in the primary extraction of raw materials, or is designed to transport workers to the more hazardous environmental areas surrounding the city, or maybe it belongs to one of the starports, pulling smaller craft into bays, or transferring cargo and supplies.

As with several of my other models I like to think of it as something that could have graced the pages of one of Dan Abnett's Inquisitor books. Both his Eisenhorn and Ravenor trilogies bring civilian life in the Imperium into sharp-enough focus to see all the cracks, grime and decay, and have provided much of the inspiration for my ongoing city project.

Outside of those books, but still within the WH40K background fluff, there's the fabled civilian Land Crawler. A workhorse machine that we don't hear much about these days, and one that I probably would have forgotten altogether had it not been for Predrag Vasiljevic mentioning it on Twitter. It is meant to be one of the most ubiquitous vehicles in the Imperium, so could my tractor be some kind of local variant on the standard template version?

Like most of my projects the back-story isn't quite as important as the finished model, so whatever it turns out to be, its more essential that its bulky, hunched shape looks cool on the streets of my urban sprawl.

Henceforth known as the sprawl's rule of cool.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Baroque of ages

Back here I talked about being inspired to build a handful of age-old, 30K Custodes legionaries out of the single-pose Stormcast Eternals I had lying around. What I may not have mentioned is that as soon as I started this project the word 'baroque' sprung to mind.*

If you look up the definition of 'baroque' you usually get something along the lines of 'an exaggerated ornamentation, designed to evoke grandeur and exuberance'. But the origin of the word comes from the name of an unevenly shaped pearl, so I can never shake the thought that 'baroque' carries an additional meaning. That of irregularity, like the absence of pattern.

In the case of my Custodes I wanted this to manifest as an asymmetrical line down the centre of their armour. So that shoulder pads, greaves, vambraces and any off-centre decorative motifs wouldn't match from one side to the other.

After my initial drawing (in the link above), I set about scouring my various boxes of spare parts for any bits that might be relevant to this project. I also bought a few specific pieces from Craig Randall's Bitzbox.

I glued the Stormcast bodies together and started trying to remove their shoulder pads, thinking that different pauldrons would be a good way to help the finished models look unique.

Eternals without shoulders. Seen here with the first wave of bits 

In some of the Black Library's earlier Horus Heresy books I vaguely remember reading that Custodes legionaries were roughly the same size as Astartes, or perhaps only a tiny bit larger. This seemed a clear indication that their base size should be the same. So my next stop was to build a handful of 32mm bases that looked like the floor in my drawing. I glued simple plasticard squares straight to the base, with a few of the tiles broken or cracked to add interest and imply the location could be taking some hits.

Of course, now that The Burning of Prospero boxed game has been released White Dwarf Magazine has told us that Custodes are a full head taller than an average Space Marine**, and that they should be on appropriately larger bases.

In English money that makes them somewhere over 8ft tall (244cm), not counting the pointy helmet.

I'm not a fan of this particular bit of retconning, so I'll just chalk it up to the general weirdness of scale issues that pervade this hobby. Whenever I stop to think about them my model collector's OCD kicks in and I start to feel a little uneasy. I didn't want to go into it here, but I can feel a rant coming on.

Why are models of towering, superhuman Space Marines the same height as those of regular army grunts? Why do so many other models seem to be getting bigger with every new release? How are ten Terminators supposed to fit inside a Land Raider? What practical benefits are there from measuring a model's scale to its eyes? And why do hive-reared Goliath Gangers so easily dwarf the Emperor's finest genetically-enhanced elites?

I could go on, but I think I've got it out of my system for now. So thanks for sticking by me. Now back to the matter in hand.

I wanted my three golden armoured warriors to not just be more realistically sized (for characters a little bigger than a Space Marine), but also to be wearing cloaks, hanging low off the back of their shoulders. The larger Stormcast models would help with the scale, but the cloaks I'd have to do by hand.

I started by rolling out three or four sheets of green stuff – each roughly twice the size of the proposed cape. After letting the sheets cure for about ten minutes, I tried to add folds by carefully scrunching them together at one end. To aid with this I experimented with rolling them around different sized paintbrush handles, although this resulted in varying degrees of success (or perhaps, more accurately, failure).

When completely dry I cut them down to size and shape, not worrying too much about the top (where they will attach to the models' backs).

At this point I started my second sweep of the bits box, looking for other pieces that could bring the models to life. Arms became quite important. At least half of mine were from Space Marine Terminators. I was also quite excited to get the heads in place. The helmets came from the grim looking High Elf Shadow Warriors kit, while the bare head is from the Space Marine Vanguard box. I wanted the sergeant to look like he based his haircut on Captain-General Constantin Valdor as a mark of fealty.

Most of the chosen bits were added to the models; and the cloaks were then glued to their backs, leaving enough space above them for me to sculpt the rest by hand.

After everything had dried I gave each cloak a couple of watered down coats of liquid green stuff to smooth out my blind mekboy sculpting work.

One of the final jobs was to build the three Guardian Spears. With Grey Knight Force Halberds as the base, I was hoping to get away with not having to do too much chopping and changing. Sadly this proved to be one of those plans that prompts people to look at you like your six-pack is three cans short of a four-pack, and the conversions ended up involving hours of fiddly drilling and glueing – technically referred to as faff.

That said, I still tried to give them all subtle differences so that each weapon appears bespoke. The sergeant's drum magazine is an obvious example of this.

When completed I positioned the weapons to make the finished squad look like they're covering a 180º forward arc.

And with that done the three warriors were finally ready for painting.

Some might say, just in time to be rendered entirely obsolete by the release of Games Workshop's Burning of Prospero game and the stunning, official versions of the Legio Custodes contained within it.

But hopefully not within earshot.

*Something I definitely mentioned was that the Custodes were not allowed to wear eagle motifs on their armour. On reading this now, I'm pretty sure that's utter horse doodoo. So apologies for that, I think I misappropriated that bit of background trivia from its correct place with the Astartes Legions of the Heresy era. Please feel free to tear me off a strip or let me know how the rule didn't apply to the Emperor's Children in the comments below.
**Wasn't that the size of a Primarch? How big are they now?

Monday, 31 October 2016

Summer's end and the aos sí

To the pagan Celts in ancient Britain, the festival of Samhain – summer's end – marked the end of the harvest season.

Many ancient Britains also believed this time of year saw a thinning of the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead – enough for supernatural beings to roam the earth. To the Gaels these creatures were known as aos sí – roughly translated as people of the burial mounds. (Female people of the burial mounds were bean sí, later pronounced banshee*.)

In the last few hundred years these two beliefs have combined to see us carving gourd vegetables from the harvest (and later just pumpkins) in an effort to ward off those restless spirits.

On Saturday I was a restless spirit myself, and only managed to get to the supermarket quite late, by which time, fortunately for me, they were practically giving their pumpkins away. The goofy vegetables were so cheap it would have been rude not to buy more than one, so I grabbed four, enough to make an entire family of the orange, border-warding jack-o'-lanterns. 

The upshot of all this is that for the next few days our house will be defended from the dead like a Mexican border would be if another certain, orange person were put in charge. Evil spirits beware. 

*Interestly for any Star Wars fans, the word , which became synonymous with these evil spirits, seems to be pronounced sith in its original Gaelic.

Monday, 10 October 2016

How not to go about silicone moulding

Today's entry is the first, and hopefully only, in a series of "How Not To..." guides.

It details my not-so-successful attempt to try silicone moulding for the first time.

Yet while I'm hoping to avoid more mistakes of this magnitude, it is undeniably true that I learnt a great deal from the process. So much so that it's worth documenting it here.

But before I get into that, let me ramble on for a moment about what I wanted to achieve and why.

A few weeks ago I finally got around to playing Destiny – Bungie's impressive first-person shooter (that was two years old last month). Within minutes of starting the game I had seen something that inspired* me to start this new project.

It was right at the beginning, where you spawn for the first time outside the old cosmodrome, and was pretty much the first thing you see. Take a look at this screen shot of abandoned cars, slowly rusting into oblivion (after their owners deserted them in hopes of heading off world). I figured a few of these scrapped vehicles would make great scatter terrain for the derelict areas of my city.

At roughly the same time I also happened to be prepping some sci-fi cars that I'd bought from Antenociti's Workshop. I thought they'd look fantastic as dilapidated, rusted, old hulks, but the original models were far too nice to simply ruin like that. Instead I decided I'd try to make a silicone mould of them and cast some replacements out of plaster, which I could then hack away at as much as I liked.

I'd come close to dabbling in silicone moulding before. It was about ten years ago. I'd been thinking of casting up some scratch-built architectural features (gargoyles, doors, pillars etc.) for my Chaos town project.** I'd got as far as buying the liquid rubber, the catalyst and a mixing bucket, but then my interest fizzled out and some other idea grabbed my tiny, erratic mind.

So I still had all the stuff and could remember enough from my earlier research to know that I'd need a load of Lego from which to build the mould's frame. Luck smiled on me again as my kids had a bunch of Duplo bricks that I reckoned I could appropriate for a couple of days without them noticing.

Add in some old chopsticks for mixing, and hey presto, a complete silicone moulding kit

The only problem was a tiny line of type on one of the silicone products that mentioned a six month shelf life.

A six month shelf life starting around the time I bought them, ten years ago.

Should I be worried? Nah, who looks at best before dates? When I see them on food packaging I take them as a guideline at best. Surely they're only there for legal reasons and to hasten repeat purchase? In my book food is ruined when it looks ruined, not when some imaginary date is passed. Besides, the liquid rubber looked fine, and even if it didn't work, what was the worst that could happen?

The worst, you say?

I was about to find out.

I added the liquid rubber into the mixing pot.

When I went to add the catalyst I noticed some of it didn't look right – it had crystallised a bit. But what could I do? Stop now and throw the rubber away? Or embrace the spirit of adventure and see what might happen?

So I built my Lego frame, put it on a large, flat piece of card and carefully placed the vehicles inside.

Then I poured in the thoroughly mixed rubber and catalyst, and went off to make a cup of tea, congratulating myself on how easy the whole process had been.

But by this point I had made two major mistakes.

The first was ignoring the shelf life, but can you see what the second was?

And I don't just mean all the air bubbles in the mixture

Neither the Lego nor the cars were weighed down or secured to the base. When I came back five minutes later there was liquid rubber seeping out all over the place, and the cars were floating in the meagre left-overs within the frame.

I had to think quickly, so I grabbed some spare Duplo bricks and tried to build something that would hold the cars down, and take a heavy bottle to do similar with the frame itself.

This seemed to do the job as the cars remained submerged and the frame appeared to stop leaking. I had lost a fair bit of the rubber fluid, and made quite a mess of my work area, but I figured I'd got it under control.

The instructions on the tin told me that 48 hours would be sufficient for the rubber mould to go completely solid, so I waited 2 days, popping in every now and then to check everything looked okay.

But at the end of that time the liquid rubber had not even got the slightest bit thicker. It was still a consistency somewhere between thick paint and runny yoghurt. The sell-by date was well and truly passed.

I was prepared to chalk it up as a long-shot that hadn't paid off, except there was now an awful lot of liquid rubber covering an awful lot of toys, tools and space. And most of those toys didn't even belong to me (all that Lego belonged to the kids, remember). And to make matters worse, the liquid rubber behaved just like thick, oil-based house paint. It's designed to be peeled off once it goes hard, but it's infinitely more difficult to clean when still a liquid.

In fact it was only when starting the clean-up that I realised it would take hours of careful scrubbing to return everything to its original condition.

To cut a long story short, the process of clean-up took me about six or seven hours, involved soaking everything in buckets of white spirit, used up an entire roll of kitchen paper, necessitated me throwing a lot of stuff away, and left the floor of my work space quite badly stained.

On the plus side however, the kids' Duplo now looks really clean.

And if I ever decided to do this again I'll know the importance of gluing my subject models to the base and weighing the frame down with something very heavy.

But did I want to do this again? The way I saw it I was faced with three possible ways to continue:

1) Scrap the whole project and never mention it again.

2) Start again from scratch, buying fresh silicone rubber materials, and use my new-found experience to get it right.

3) Find a completely different way to achieve the same goal.

After discovering the price of a new silicone moulding kit – something like £30 or £40 – I was pretty convinced number 2 was off the list. And 1 just sounds like defeat, so number 3 it was.

Armed with just £2 in my pocket I headed to the nearest Pound Shop where I was able to buy some toys that might just prove to be perfect for this job. If all goes according to plan it will give me four, lovely wrecked vehicles for my sci-fi city terrain, all in roughly the same scale as the original Antenociti's Workshop kits.

In fact the only downside is my recent track record regarding plans. Specifically with events not going according to them

I'm looking forward to tackling this brand-new project in the near future. I'll document any further failures here. As they say "I've learnt so much from my mistakes, I'm thinking of making a few more".

*I've been inspired by Destiny before. The concept art and screen shots sparked me into making some mercenaries and gunslingers that might be found in the bars and cantinas of Kru. You know the kind of places, wretched hives of scum and villainy. There's clearly something about the aesthetic of Destiny that appeals to my inner model maker.
**Which, despite repeated mentions, I still haven't managed to share on this blog.