Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Blog 008 – The sort of thing that sane people just don’t do.

Years ago I bought one of Rackham’s Wolfen Zombies with an eye on converting it, partly because of my strange compulsion to modify figures but also because no-one seemed to convert Rackham’s miniatures. I liked the figure, but I wasn’t really inspired by it and as a result it sat in a box for ages, slowly gathering dust until a use for it cropped up on another project.
As an extended sculpting exercise I had produced a clutch of 54mm modern Zombies. It was when I was starting to use green-stuff for the first time and Steve Buddle had suggested that I practice by creating something I enjoyed. It’s good advice – practice is more effective when the process is pleasant – and it paid dividends as I ended up with ten very cool Zombies as well as a huntress to take them on.
Through a few vagaries of fate I ended up with a small number of resin castings of my living dead and so I thought a horror-horde might be a good idea (okay, I’d already started a 28mm horror-horde, but this was 54mm – totally different, I think you’ll agree). And what is a horror-horde without at least one Werewolf? That’s right – it’s not fit to bear the label. So I hunted around, dug out that old Wolfen and considered it.
And then mentally cut it into pieces – always a good start.  It’s my version of ‘measure twice, cut once’. With an image and idea in my head I started work in earnest.
First step was the removal of the scythe. I’ve never seen Zombies or Werewolves as tool-using creatures and in my mind a combination of both wouldn’t be toting any weaponry into its fights, even if that weapon does look kind of cool. So off came the scythe parts… Then I pinned them together, restored some damage detail to ensure they looked like a single component, and dropped them into the bits box. I know it seems an odd thing to do, but I find that completed components are more inspirational to my “process” than disjointed scrap parts. Plus it’s a simple way of keeping matching bits and bobs together.
Back to the Wolfen. Next I drilled up through his feet, past his ankles and into his shins (don’t worry, he didn’t feel a thing) and then cut his feet off. After extending the drilled shafts almost all the way to the knees two sturdy brass pins were inserted through the feet and up into the shins, leaving a portion exposed to lengthen the lower leg. By drilling the holes before cutting the feet off I ensured that the holes would align, saving me having to fiddle with the heavy-gauge rod I use for such things (incidentally, I used the same trick when I extended the shins of my Lorgar conversion, but that’s for another blog).
At this point the figure’s stance was very wide – ridiculously so – so I reduced his footprint by cutting his right leg off and repinning it at a more vertical angle. This also had the effect of giving him a two-level stance which has become an occasional trade-mark of my conversions – I think it gives a figure a heroic aspect, but that’s just my opinion. At this point I also roughed out a temporary base so that I could be sure that the finished figure would look balanced and stable. That was the leg section done, so next came the body. [Before I go on please note the indicated section of cloth wrapping – you can clearly see that I used a thin strip of plasticard as a former before sculpting over it]
The big change to the torso was the removal of the original belly section with clippers. The figure was going to be straightened to stand more upright and so I had the choice of cutting and pinning and restoring more lost detail to “un-crunch” the belly or just resculpting it from scratch. I chose the latter. I drilled and pinned the thorax to the hips then put a core of miliput around the rod to form the core of the abdomen as well as a basis for the detailing to come. Greenstuff would be sculpted over it, but I find that inflexible miliput gives a much stronger structure.
More cutting and pinning pulled the right arm back in line with the torso and I also took the opportunity to twist the hand about the wrist. I also added a little length to the fore-arm, but the main change was to grind down some of the existing musculature for when I would need to resculpt it (as I outlined in my earlier blog on anatomy). The left arm was more challenging, requiring me to clip away the entire existing shoulder before pinning and restructuring with miliput, just like the abdomen. At this point I also scrapped the right hand – it just didn’t look very good closed so I decided to sculpt a brand new one.
Finally, the head. The big change here was using a razorsaw to split the ears apart (as you can see from the pic at the top of this blog), but I also chose to glue it turned slightly to the right, again to create a more dramatic effect.
Then it was a lot of work with greenstuff to restore lost detail and create some all new features, plus a bit of basing work to create a suitable scenic base. The following picture shows clearly how I first resculpted the musculature of the shoulder before restoring and extending the hair detail.
With this picture of the neck and upper arm you can clearly see how I have attempted to match the newly sculpted sections with the style of the existing pieces to create the appearance in the final painted piece of an unconverted miniature (as my regular readers will know by now my aim is always to create that illusion).
The last step was to create a more detailed base, including placing a hand and forearm clipped from one of my zombie miniatures within the rubble – it isn’t prominent enough to define the wolfen’s scale as 28mm and could just as easily be a child’s arm as an adult’s (so this is a 28mm and a 54mm figure).
Am I happy with the finished product? Not entirely, or at least not quite yet. The only real change is that I’m sorely tempted to grind out the thumb and first three fingers of the right hand and resculpt them as a looser fist – I not entirely convinced that I like the tightly current clenched appearance very much. Once that’s done I’ll have a nice Zombie-Werewolf to eventually paint as well as a very rare example of a converted Rackham figure.
You know just writing that makes me worry that some part of my psyche just wants me to do the sort of things that other hobbyists consider either crazy or simply not worth doing… I’ll happily admit that this could be the case, that I may indeed have some sort of mental defect, some flaw to set me apart from those the world labels sane, but if so I can also say that I have a kick-ass Wolfen Zombie and they don’t.
Coming in future blogs – a detailed breakdown of a conversion from start to finish, a tutorial or two and ZOMBIES!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Blog 007 – Show and tell… and cleanse with bolter-fire.

Well, you’ve already seen the dreadnaught in my Word Bearers force so it makes sense that I show off a couple of the regular battle-brothers.
When I started this project (many moons ago and on a workbench far, far away) the idea was to create a vaguely pre-Heresy force. At the time it was one of those things that was really in vogue thanks to a series of articles in White Dwarf on the Primarchs, their Legions and the Chapters that succeeded them. Since my guys would all be bearing kit that was at least 10,000 years old I decided that I’d go for a beaky-marine vibe – old-style helmets, no knee-pads and I desperately needed to retro-style their bolters. Gothic sections of armour were also on the menu along with enough purity-seals and sacred scripts to gift-wrap the moon. I wanted the resulting miniatures to look like a combination of crusaders, holy-warriors and crusading knights. After all, that’s just what the Word Bearers were – a bunch of fanatic xenophobes armoured with ceramite and faith who lived to bring the Emperor’s truth to anyone who would listen. And kill anyone who wouldn’t.
No knee-pads was the easy bit – I just sorted out all the legs I owned which had knee pads and didn’t use them. A few trips to my local GW store in Truro led to a series of swaps which netted even more. I did the same with a lot of the non-beaky helmets too, swapping them for the ones the project demanded, although I also had another idea for head-gear which you’ll see in a later blog. I made sure to sort through my bits-wardrobe for some bare heads (finding a useful bit of kit from the gothicly inclined Black Templar sprue in the process) but I didn’t want to use too many of them unless I had to.
Extra legs were clipped from Chaos-marine sprues and the inappropriate iconography stripped from them – my lads were still meant to be loyalist after all.  I also threw a lot of Chaos-marine arms into the mix so that I could use those wonderful gauntleted hands, again to evoke that primitive feel.
The bolters were the fun bit (and here I mean my type of fun, not the normal person’s definition of it). I had – and indeed still have – a load of RTB 01 sprues, but the old components were far too basic to use and look puny in the hands of the modern marines. Forge-World hadn’t started producing pre-Heresy bolters by that point so, since my DeLorean still hadn’t come back from the garage with its new flux capacitor, that was a no-go too. I already had a few de-iconographied [and that’s a brand-new word right there] Chaos bolters with the ammo hanging down on a belt and thought they looked nicely retro, but that was nowhere near enough for all of my planned battle-brethren. So how to modify my bolters for a retro look? Looking at the GW bolter design the most recognisable part of it was the sickle-magazine and so – much like when the men of Krikkit first saw the infinite Universe – I decided it would have to go. But what to use to replace it? Easy. Drum-mag.
Besides, how difficult could it be to replace every single bloody sickle-mag in such a way that the marines would still be able to hold it?
Actually, it was a complete and utter pain in the arse. Each sickle-mag had to be clipped off at just the right point (using a pain of toe-nail clippers – straight cutting edge, you see), trimmed to perfection and then a drum-mag glued into place. After that I needed to sculpt a lip to mask the gap at the connection point (follow the big, red arrow – yes, I figured out how to add arrows). As for the drum-mags themselves I started off by cutting a short section of plastic tubing using a razor-saw and a cutting-box, super-glued a section of aluminium tubing inside it so that a small section protruded and then used miliput to fill the internal void. In the end I did it production-line style about five at a time, and stopped putting the aluminium tube inside. Hey it really was a pain in the arse, even for me. A few mags were varied in style to give a nicely heterogeneous effect and, in the end, I was extremely happy with the effect. A few of the finished weapons were a little too cramped to be held properly, but since several of the planned models would be holding them single-handed I didn’t anticipate that it would be a problem and in the end it wasn't.
Oh, I drilled the barrels too.
On the Word Bearers shown below there are a couple of the things I’ve been talking about visible. Both sets of legs are originally from Chaos sprues as are the arms with the leather gauntlets. With the sergeant (that’s the guy with the ornate back-pack courtesy of the heavily-used Empire Flagellants boxset) I filed down the detail from the top of the bolter and removed both the barrel and the bayonet spike, replacing the former with a short section of plastic tubing and the latter with a section of brass rod. I felt the result looked even more primitive than the rest of the bolters I’d modified, more like the sort of relic that would be carried by a trusted veteran (the same reasoning was behind his gothic-styled Black Templar helmet as a matter of fact).
But enough of the words – just enjoy the pics.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Blog 006 – Beginning with the basics.

The first thing you need to learn when it comes to converting isn’t how to cut or drill, sculpt or fill. These are, of course, important skills and vital to the process, but the very first thing you need to learn will take a damned sight longer to master – I’ve been learning it for 30 years and there’s still times I get it wrong. Thankfully you have all the resources you’ll ever need to learn it right around you.
What am I talking about? Anatomy. Well, gross anatomy in general and kinesiology – the mechanics of human body movement – in particular.
At this point some of you reading this will be saying something along the lines of ‘What good is human anatomy when I want to convert Orcs?’ It’s a fair question – a very good question, in fact – and I hope you’ll find my answer equally impressive.
In order to know how to break the rules you first need to know how they work.
Have you ever seen Les Dawson playing the piano? No doubt some of you will have just nodded (and given away your ages in so doing) but those of you who haven’t can probably check it out on YouTube. Go on – the rest of us will wait.
Back already? Good. As you now know Mr Dawson didn’t just play badly, he played appallingly, atrociously, horrendously. As the Morecombe and Wise joke goes, he hit all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order, and I hope you’ll agree that the end result was hilarious – a British comedian at his iconic best. The fact is that anyone can play the piano badly (and despite many childhood lessons I still count myself among that number) but to break the rules in the way Les Dawson did requires consummate skill. I’m sure it won’t surprise you to discover that he was an extremely accomplished pianist who played for several hours each day (mostly classical and jazz, so I believe).
To translate this to the miniatures hobby you need to know how the human body looks and moves before you can deform it into the modified forms of the Orcs, Orks, Dwarves, Tau and so on. Even a Chaos Spawn has some form of internal skeleton and musculature that defines the movements of its limbs (well, maybe not if it’s a big ball of slime and tentacles, but you get the point I’m sure).
Learning human anatomy also gives a good grounding for horses, hounds, felines, birds and all the other beasties you’ll want to modify. Even dragons, wyverns, centaurs and other fantastic beasts follow the basic rules (look at Nick Bibby’s “Great Spined Dragon” for a tour de force example of realistic anatomy on a fantasy subject – 25 years old and that figure is still breath-taking).
First let’s look at the simple “hinge” joints. Knuckles, knees and elbows are the easiest examples to look at and the easiest to understand, but they show the basic concept of a joint perfectly. A joint is where a thing bends (fingers, legs and arms in the above cases).
I’m going to look at the arm first. So, where does the elbow bend? Does it bend on the outside where the pointy bit is? No. How about on the inside, what’s sometimes called the crook of the elbow – does it bend there? No. The reality is that the axis around which the joint turns is within the arm itself (about a third of the way in from point to crook in fact).
The same is true for the knee (the axis is about a third of the way in from the kneecap), the knuckles and the ankles (each about half way through).
What this means for you when bending a miniature’s limb is that you’ll have to cut in from both sides of the joint – if you don’t then you’ll end up either lengthening or shortening the limb and that affects the proportioning of your figure.
Similar rules apply to the other joints and points of articulation as well. When straightening or bending the torso the point of flexure is in the middle of the spine, about a sixth of the way through from the back. The neck likewise rotates about the cervical vertebrae which is at the back of the neck, not half-way through it. I know it seems as if I’m labouring the point, but understanding the skeleton is important. The movements of the skeleton define the changes in the muscles that are attached to them.
The two toughest joints are the hips and shoulders. Each is a ball-and-socket joint, able to move in multiple ways. Both can rotate about the axis defined by the bone, but each can also swing in and out.
Let me try and explain that last one. If you want to lift you arm out to the side (as if pointing, or firing a pistol) your shoulder shifts upwards and the top of the humerus (the upper arm-bone) describes a little arc. Why is this? It’s because of the complex structure of that joint and the shape of the bones. If you don’t believe me then stand in front of a mirror and look. This has drastic effects on the musculature of the shoulder and upper torso (or thorax). Such modifications to a miniature mean that you’ll face a lot of work to create a convincing change – get it even slightly wrong and the end result will look like a broken doll. It’s also the main reason that I don’t like using those little wooden artists’ maquettes that you can buy – the shoulder articulation is just plain wrong.
The observant among you will have noticed that I’ve left one major joint out – the wrist. This is like saving the best for last, except that it’s the exact opposite. When shifting the hand up or down in a “knocking” motion the point of articulation is simple – just about halfway through the joint – and it’s the same if you move the hand from side to side too. So far so simple. When twisting the hand (as if turning a doorknob) it appears to move about a point that is practically central to the arm, but the problem with that movement comes when you look at the huge changes that it has on the musculature. Of course, if the arm is covered in armour or a sleeve then there’s no musculature to see, but if the arm is bare then twisting the hand means that you’ll need to resculpt the muscles all the way up to the elbow. Go ahead – roll up your sleeve and look at the way that the whole shape of the forearm changes when you twist your hand. It happens because you’re not so much rotating you wrist as realigning the two bones that run through your lower arm (you ulna and radius).
Visual examples of what I’ve talked about abound – look at Leonardo’s illustration of the human body (known as the Vitruvian man) for a start. Grey’s Anatomy – the book not the TV series – is also helpful, but Hogarth’s volumes “Dynamic Anatomy” and “Dynamic Figure Drawing” are absolutely invaluable. Of course the easiest thing is simply to look at the people around you or on the TV and study the way they move, but just don’t let the other-half catch you doing it.
Next time - lots of pretty pictures!

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Blog 005 – A new look at an old friend

This is far from being one of my first conversions (although it must be almost 15 years old) but I think it deserves a showing. Years ago I decided that I wanted to do a force of Chaos-aligned Eldar – there was a line in an old codex that roughly went “no more certainly damned is an Eldar who has given his soul to Slaanesh” and it really caught my imagination. For the most part the small force was composed of the old lead/tin Eldar (including one of my favourite GW sculpts ever – an Eldar with an absolutely huge pistol), but I wanted to have an appropriate leader for the force. Rules wise it was going to conform to the standard army list, but I wanted each figure to be themed (the phrase ‘counts as’ is just wonderful when it comes to army building) so I thought I’d see what I could do to the Avatar to theme it to my army.
In the normal rules the Avatar is a big construct animated by the will of Kaela Mensha Khaine, the Eldar god of war and murder (good to know that they’re as messed up as the rest of the Universe), but that wouldn’t make sense in a Slaaneshi force. An Avatar animated by a demon however… Now that sounded right.
I knew that I’d need to warp the Avatar’s form to some degree, but at the time my sculpting ability was nowhere near as good as it is now and I only used miliput – both of these were limiting factors. What I decided to do was what you can see. The legs were modified to give extra height as well as to conform to one of the classic Chaos images and I snipped away the bulk of the head.
As it’s the focus of the figure (indeed of almost any figure) it needed to be changed, not least to remove the great, big Eldar rune-shaped horns sticking out of it. I also liked the idea of giving it long hair, a touch of much-needed femininity (an attempt at giving the torso the iconic single breast was abandoned – the result looked malformed and misaligned).
Looking back at it after all these years the severed heads on the hip were a mistake. They don’t fit with the rest of the figure either in theme or in sculpting style, plus the head with the facial-hair was taken from one of the old Time-Lord figures GW produced in the early eighties and I really wish I still had them to play with.
What would I do differently today? Well a couple of things come to mind. I’d certainly change the sword into another weapon (I always like the spear version of The Doom That Wails so that would seem appropriate) and I think that a little more Slaaneshi-goodness would make sense. I’d probably revisit the idea of adding the single breast and see whether a few years of experience could get it to work, plus I think that sculpting a claw to replace the empty hand would add to the general Slaaneshi feel. At this moment of writing I also think that I’d look at giving the piece the four-armed aspect of both the Keeper of secrets and the death-goddess Kali – I reckon that the end result could look rather impressive. And I do have a couple of spare Avatars somewhere so I might just have to give it another try and see what comes out – time permitting, of course.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Blog 004 – What makes a good conversion?

This is easy – the best conversions look as if they’re not converted at all.
Blog 004 over.
What? You want more? Okay then, fair enough. But only because you asked nicely and you look like a kind and generous soul – the sort of person that would give me a packet of crisps were we ever to meet.
Think of a house. Now imagine that you want to add an extension to it. Do you want that extension to look like an addition or would you want it to blend in, to look like it’s always been part of the fabric of the house? A simple answer, isn’t it?
The same holds true with my conversions. There are plenty of hobbyists out there who produce minis that look modified, that stand out as having had components added to them, but I like my conversions to look as if they’re figures from the existing range that you just hadn’t seen before. Part of that process is choosing complimentary components to make up my figures, but with larger and more expansive conversions it inevitably means sculpting in the same styles as the original figure designers (or at least in a compatible fashion). Here I have to admit that the only teacher is experience – you simply can’t learn how to sculpt by reading about it. When I started the hobby I used to practice by making spare bits and pieces from the miliput that was inevitably left over at the end of working, but you can always use plasticene or a similar clay that can be worked over and over again without the problem of the material curing. I did that as well.
[A quick aside: a little plasticene added to miliput – about a quarter of the total mix – slows the curing and extends the time it can be worked, but means that your finished sculpt can’t be cast using a vulcanising process. Not a problem with a conversion, but it’s a cause for concern if you ever sculpt a master for production.]
The simple rule I follow is to use as many pre-produced components as possible – look back at what I said about the Space Wolves in Blog 002 – and only sculpt new pieces when I absolutely have to. This ensures a uniformity of appearance between each component which leads to a visual consistency in the final figure. It worked when I started converting, and it still works now, the only difference being that I can sculpt entirely new components if the part I’m looking for just doesn’t exist. However, the majority of my conversion work lies between these two polar opposites – modifying the stock components that I already have. For instance, if I need an armoured arm that’s perfectly straight but there’s none available then I’ll get a bent arm, cut and pin it, then restore the detail.
And I find that I’ve sculpted a lot of empty hands over the years…
One last thing. When sculpting the same addition or modification repeatedly (like the purity seals and paper-work that seems to cover half of my Word Bearers) it’s important to use the same technique across all the figures. Think of it as converting a unit or an army rather than a single figure – just as you want uniformity of style in each part of a figure so you also want that uniformity to extend throughout the entire group of figures. Even Chaos forces require this – after all they’re chaotic, not messy.
And now that really is blog 004 over and done with.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Blog 003 – First into the fray.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog I am half-way through a Word Bearers army from the times either at or just before The Horus Heresy. Don’t ask me how long I’ve been working on it – it’s certainly into the years by now – but I remember that it started a little after I read all about them in a copy of White Dwarf and was thoroughly stunned by the picture of one of their Dark Apostles urging on some reluctant followers. I decided then and there that I simply had to convert a figure inspired by that artwork, basing it on the Chaplain in Terminator Armour.
Once that first Word Bearer was finished I knew that I had to have at least a small force for him to command and so I started converting. And converting. And converting…
Before I knew it I had three transports based on the original Rhino models, a mobile reliquary built from the same vehicle which redefines the word ‘mental’ (but more of that in later blog), three squads of battle-brothers, a host of Imperial Cult fanatics to support them, Lorgar and a kick-ass dreadnaught. Thanks to this year’s new Armies on Parade competition I even have a few pieces of themed scenery and weapons emplacements for them too. Naturally all of this will one day be photographed and blogged for all the world to see and pick to pieces, but one of them has to be first to show itself above the parapets and the choice was obvious. I just have to go with the heavy hitter.
So, here’s the dreadnaught’s story.
His legs and body are based on a Thousand Sons dreadnaught from Forge World given to me because it had too many casting errors on it (the person who had it didn’t want to put in all the effort required to get it up to spec and thought I might have a use for it – how right he was). It seemed like an appropriate starting point because it was – at the time – the oldest form of dreadnaught available, the venerable dreadnaught being not then released. The first step was to clean off all the extra detail on it that didn’t fit in to my plans – naturally any and all Chaos/chapter iconography was first to go. A few bits and pieces were left behind to add interest to the piece and prevent it from being too sterile (the skull on the left shin and the remnants of the wing design on the right ‘chest’ for example), but most of it was cut or ground off with my multi-tool. Miliput was then used to ensure that I had clean surfaces to work with since it can be smoothed when wet and sanded when cured.
Arms next. The original left arm was missing and the right one was unusable so appropriate donor parts were scavenged from my bits-wardrobe and test fitted. (And that’s an important lesson right there – test fit everything at every stage, just in case. There’s little worse than finishing a beautifully crafted component and then finding that it won’t go into place properly.)
So far, so good. But something was missing. Since most Word Bearers are practically walking reliquaries it made sense that a battle-brother granted the privilege of being trapped beyond death in a mobile killing machine (always a dubious honour in my book) would have something just that little bit special. Banners on dreadnaughts are a classic, but I wanted a more impressive shrine mounted on his broad and impressive shoulders. Plus a banner. After all, there’s no such thing as overkill when you’re showing your love for the Emperor, is there? (And if you think there is please have a quick word with your nearest Confessor, Inquisitor or Commissar depending on your location and chosen career path.)
After sounding out a few ideas with Steve Buddle he suggested that I have the occupant’s former armour on a rack, displayed for all the Universe to see. It was my dumb idea to make it an obsolete mark of armour. Shattered and obsolete. Easy peasy, eh?
The shoulder pads were (like those of all of the battle-brothers) normal pads with the rims removed and then tidied up with putty, the body was sculpted over a normal chest piece and the legs scratch-built over the pieces of rod that made up the frame and the power-fist is an ooooold piece (not quite RTB01, but close to it) from which I first removed and then rescuplted the digits. The helm was trickier but in the end I cleaned up a Cadian helmet, extended the cheek pieces with plasticard and putty, sculpted the visor and then topped it all off with a Chaos Marine’s top-knot. Like I said, easy peasy… Yeah, right! Two holes were drilled into the dreadnaught’s shoulders to mount it along with a third in the back to house the banner pole, making sure that the components wouldn’t crowd each other out when they were fitted.

The banner-pole was constructed from two lengths of brass-rod fitted together, lashed with fuse-wire for appearance sake and finally crowned with a Bretonnian symbol (meant for a shield if I remember rightly). The banner itself was made out of plasticard detailed mostly with miliput. (I often use this for banners and cloaks rather than green-stuff as it’s easier to achieve the fine blending where the edges of the folds I add meet the plasticard surface.)
Other details were added with components from the Empire Flagellants sprues, green-stuff and ragged-edged rectangles or strips of thin plasticard. An extra note on the candles – these were made from cut-down sections of plastic-rod culled from the shafts of the Flagellants’ weapons with wicks added from more fuse-wire. The wax pooling around their bases was sculpted from green-stuff.

And basically that was that – a quick paint-job and my main-man was ready to rain doom upon the enemies of the Emperor. Well, right up until the point he became one of them, but that’s a whole different story.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Blog 002 – Materials and tools I use… with a little history thrown in.

The first miniatures I bought were purchased 31 years ago. Each came in a plastic bag with a fold of card stapled to the top of it, each was made of lead and each cost significantly less than 10p (those were the days, eh?). There was a Dwarf skeleton armed with an axe and kite shield (on an integral base – this was years before the plastic slotta-base was even a dream) and a pair of human skeletons laid out as very tidy casualties. The first thing I did was to try and convert the latter figures into hanged skeletons by the addition of nooses and some judicious bending of limbs to show the effects of gravity. This did not go well, but it shows that my first instinct was to try and make these figures my own, to instil in them some measure of my own creativity.
That’s still why I convert. Part of it is so that I can produce something unique that other hobbyists can ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ over, part of it is to get that perfect representation of this or that character, but mostly it’s small voice inside me saying “If I’d sculpted it I’d have done this…”
And then doing it.
Converting lead was fun. It cut so easily and was wonderfully flexible – too bad that it had to be so toxic.
The new white-metal was less fun to convert, but made for better miniatures. It was hard enough to blunt drills, but retained so much more detail than lead did.
I must admit that I’ve not yet tried converting anything cast in GW’s new fine-cast resin, although I’ve worked with resin from other companies a lot. It used to be almost universally a very fragile material, prone to breaking if even moderate force was applied to it, but it glued like a dream and was easy to carve and remodel. And fine-cast seems to have overcome the breaking problem.
Vinyl is rarely used these days, and almost never on the scale of figures I’ll be talking about (which is good because, apart from cutting and bending easily, it’s an absolute pig to convert).
And then there’s plastic… Yes, the manufacturing process has one main drawback that can affect details – no undercuts – but decent sculptors can work with that and still produce miniatures that seem almost magically detailed. Have you seen the figures in the recent Space-Hulk game? Okay, so one of the Gene-Stealers has only got three arms, but that aside they’re stunning examples of the art. And the Terminators aren’t just at the leading edge they’re at the bleeding edge. After seeing those little beauties I wasn't entirely sure that Alex Hedstrom hadn’t sold his soul to the devil – these are push-fit figures, damnit!
But I’m diverging – back to the topic at hand. Plastic is wonderful to convert. It doesn’t bend very well, but it’s incredibly easy to cut, saw, drill, file, pin, sand, carve and glue. Add to that the range of bits and pieces that GW has produced over the years and you have this mad converter’s dream (but not this mad converter’s fantasy – that would have to involve Tilda Swinton, Heather Graham or Julie Delpy along with an industrial quantity of crisps). I used to have a bits-box but now only a bits-wardrobe is big enough.
My plastics of choice? Glad you asked. Marines. My first decent-sized 40k army was a Red-Corsairs force and I’m a good way through a vaguely pre-Heresy Word Bearers army at the moment (examples of which will be coming soon).
This glut of components means that conversions can be as simple as using a part from another sprue. For example, when I constructed two squads of Space Wolves a few years back I had only a single sprue of five those particular battle-brothers available to me, although I had enough ‘unflavoured’ Marine parts to build a couple of chapters. So what I did was to ‘spread the love’, as it were. Rather than have five Space Wolves creaking under the weight of their iconography I used the dedicated components more sparingly. A couple of pieces of Space Wolf kit on an otherwise generic figure and I had a figure that was recognisably a Space Wolf even before it was painted-up.
With my Word Bearers I’ve used components from most of the Imperial and Chaos aligned Space Marine sprues. Sometimes this has meant removing or remodelling some of the detail work, but on other occasions a part can simply be used ‘as-is’.

This works across the game systems as well. My recent Golden Demon entry is a Nurgle-aligned Chaos Lord on horseback . He’s Warhammer all the way, but his head is the sergeant’s head from the generic Space Marine set while his shoulder armour is cut from a plain Space Marine shoulder pad from the same sprue.
With my Word Bearers army the Imperial Cult fanatics I created as an allied force are predominantly a combination of Empire Flagellants and Cadian Imperial Guard with a few bits and pieces from the Empire and Bretonnian ranges thrown in for flavour and variety. Oh, and I used some Necron components for cybernetic limbs.
Aside from a variety of components and donor-miniatures the most important material is green-stuff. I still use miliput for gross structural changes to a mini (it’s also great for creating a smooth surface on armoured vehicles, mechanical shapes, banners and the like) and various grades of plasticard are used for various thinks, but green-stuff is used for almost all of my conversions and detail-work these days. It’s clean to use, relatively non-toxic and cures with just a touch of flexibility to it, which can be a boon for those little last-minute tweaks of joints (plus it seems to know exactly what shape I want it to end up in, which could mean that it’s the world’s first psychomorphic material). When I sculpt miliput I use an old dental tool I picked up years ago (make that decades ago), but with green-stuff I use an obsolete Sylmaster wax 5. When smoothing and shaping I also use some appropriately tools called clay-shapers, but I do the bulk of my work with steel tools. Add to that a pin-drill with assorted bits, a pair of forceps, a mains-powered multi-tool, a pair of knackered razor-saws, a scalpel or two, some nail-clippers, pin-files and paper-clips and you pretty much have my entire modelling/sculpting kit. Oh, and two types of glue – super-glue and liquid poly plastic-weld.
As you can see from the teaser pics above I’ve now received enough of my camera kit to be able to take some photos (albeit far from the standard I’d like, still that’s what practice is for), so next time I’ll be showing off and dissecting one of my favourite conversions. Hope you’ll be there to enjoy it.

Future Blogs...

In the next weeks or so I'll be blogging articles on my Word Bearer dreadnaught, an oooooold Eldar Avatar conversion, a dead marine (which is cooler than it sounds) and a few theory pieces too. The headings are already saved on my blog list so all I have to do is write the article, take the photos, place them in the article and then hit 'publish'. How difficult can that be?

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Blog 001 (three digits – now that is what I call optimism)

I had no idea what the first words of this blog should be, but it does seem as though I’ve just written them.
I suppose the first step, logically, is to introduce myself, so here goes.
Hi, my name is Neil Roberts and I’m a writer/novelist living in Cornwall. I love the written word, absolutely adore it, and believe that it offers one of the most intimate experiences that can be shared between minds (yup, third paragraph and I’ve already managed to get pretentious). Let me explain that statement. On the shelves around me I have works by many authors, most of whom have been dead for decades and a few of whom were nothing but dust centuries before I drew my first breath. Each of them had a wonderful mind, a mind capable of thinking, feeling, loving, hating, laughing, crying – the whole range of human emotions (except for the agelastic genius Sir Isaac Newton, who only laughed once in his life and even then it was at someone else’s misfortune). Unfortunately, each of those minds stopped being anything other than decaying organic matter mere moments after each of those authors drew their last breaths. Thank God they left behind a legacy of their thoughts, philosophies, ideas or tales recorded for posterity on flimsy paper (and recently on iPads, Kindles, computer screens, and so on). I can pick up a slim volume and have the samurai philosopher Musashi Miyamoto or the Chinese general Sun Tzu describe their ideas on war and politics. I can have a story told to me by the genius that was HP Lovecraft or read of Brigadier General Sir Harry Paget Flashman, the Hector of Afghanistan, courtesy of George MacDonald Fraser. I can have Feynman teach me phyiscs and Newton instruct me in mathematics. But best of all these great examples of humanity won’t get angry if I have to go over the same point a hundred times before I understand it, if I let my attention wander and have to get them to repeat themselves or if I come and go as my whims take me. It’s only a shame that I can’t actually talk to them, but I’ll happily be their rapt and attentive audience.
Yup, still pretentious…
This blog, however, is planned to be about my other great passion – miniatures and, more importantly, converting them.
A few years ago I did some work for Games Workshop, writing a few articles for their “Exterminatus” magazine. I penned a couple of master-classes, a rules/background piece for the Ordo Sicarius (always my favourite ordo) and a short article on creating weapons called “Arming the Masses”. Why do I mention this? Partly to prove that I can write (although I hope that you’ll have figured that out by now), partly to prove my hobbyist credentials, but mostly so that I can mention the by-line that the editor (a wonderful chap named Andy Hall) bestowed upon me.
To those of you who have never had any involvement in the worlds of writing or journalism the term may be obscure, but it simply means what comes after the title/headline of the piece. It is, literally and literarily, the line that follows the word by. For my first two articles Andy left my by-line as the obvious ‘by Neil Roberts’ – since that’s my name the decision made perfect sense and I can’t fault his unerring editorial instinct. Following my third article seeing print I received a phone call from Andy asking if I’d received my free contributor’s copy. I said that I hadn’t, but promised that I would call him as soon as it hit my door-mat. When that happened the next day I tore open the envelope and saw that my by-line had been changed to ‘Neil “Mad Converter” Roberts’.
I geeked out. Total nerdgasm. I had never had a nickname before (admittedly I’d been the target of a few insulting epithets, but nothing positive) and I loved it. It was meant to be the title of this blog, but someone in France beat me to it.
Sorry, Andy.
My plan for this blog is to use it to voice my opinions, share some techniques and air my thoughts on the subject of the miniatures hobby in general, and miniature conversions in particular. The first couple of blogs are likely to be fairly word-heavy, but as soon as I have the bits and pieces I need for my camera (just ordered and hopefully in the post over the next few days) and figure out how to use it, I’ll be adding photos of completed projects, works in progress and maybe even a few tutorials. If you’re not a fan of the GW hobby then you might not get much from this as most, but not all, of what I do revolves around it. To give you an idea of what’s coming up – and this comes with a big SPOILER ALERT – the bulk of what I’ve worked on in my 30+ years in the hobby has been for Warhammer 40k and the Universe it inhabits, and most of that has been for the Imperium in general but space marines in particular (both loyalist and Chaos). Some of the pieces have been painted, and I even have an army or two to show for my efforts, but most of them are bare even of undercoat so you can still see what I’ve done to them.
Seemed a shame not to show them off.
Which reminds me… One last thing that I have to say is a big THANK YOU to Steve Buddle. Years ago I met Steve, a young, beardless and callow youth, in the Truro branch of Games Workshop  and convinced him that converting figures was really easy. Over the years we exchanged modelling and painting techniques and kept in touch and now we’ve now been friends for the best part of two decades – he’s one of the closest friends I have on the planet. Of course, I’m still a hobbyist while he now sculpts for Games Workshop at their design studio in Nottingham…
I know exactly how Salieri felt when he saw how successful Mozart had become.
But it was Steve’s idea that I start this blog, his suggestion that I try green-stuff as well as the miliput I’d used for years and it was his camera before he bought a new one and donated the old one to a worthy cause.
I hope that you, my faithful readers, will thank him for it. And if that thanks takes the form of a coffee, hot-chocolate or a proper Cornish pasty then I know he’ll thank me in return.