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?