So, I've started yet another project. I've always wanted to make my own miniature line and I've started a bunch of projects at various points in time. This one came suddenly after I had stumbled upon StarGuard - a 1974 (and forward) Sci-Fi miniatures game with a distinct retro feel to it. There are not much 1:72 Sci-Fi figures out there, so that's the scale I'm going for. At 1:72 a human is about 24-25 mm tall. One millimeter of figure would be almost 14 cm. I'll be aiming for pretty realistic proportions to keep the scale compatible with.... other realistic figures of the scale.
Updated: 24 November, 2009: Worked some more on the Starguard pinups (bottom).
Updated: 20 November, 2009: Added some ships and vehicle beginnings near the bottom.
Updated: 28 September, 2009: Elaborated on Orks, added Gnomes.
Updated: 27 September, 2009: Split a big tall image with rough sketches, and added a few new concepts (Robots, Androids, Orks, Marine).
Updated: 26 September, 2009: Rewrote and added text, updated lineups.
Started: Early February, 2009
Rather than going for 'cool' shapes and details, I'd like to pick unusual simple shapes which I believe can have a bit more character than the usual 'cool' stuff. Things might look a bit odd and take some getting used to, but eventually it's that almost ugly odd traits which you fall in love with (examples being Daleks and the Gundam Saku).
Why does the 40K Space Marine work so well? My guesses are that it uses simple shapes and few shapes, and it has spaces for emblems/decoration. A lot of other sci-fi miniatures fail to be memorable because they are just a mess of inconsistent greebles. Some round chunks on a leg, some polygonal chunks on the shoulder, some belts, some filler bits on the belly just to have something there. Inconsistency in design is a bit like when someone paints every part of a space marine in a different color, like a green fot, zebra calf armour, a polka dot knee pad, yellow upper leg, etc.
It's easier and perhaps more comfortable for our brains to take in (read, remember and manipulate in fantasy) a design which has a consistent theme (be it smoothness or a repeating greeble) than one which has different kind of things all over. In some ways a figure should be like a logotype for a company, with some kind of easy shapes which instantly creates character. Humans are pretty complex in shape though, but we are used to seeing and understanding our form. I think that, it's the design added on top of that which needs to be memorable/rememberable/bam.
So, I think a design should have a focus, and this means that some areas need to be held back and simple. The retro direction I'm going in here is further incentive to keep surfaces smooth, or at least consistent in greebling style. Looking at what I have done so far, simplification is one thing which I need to work on. It's so easy to fall back on old tricks, putting my favourite shapes and greebles everywhere there's an opportunity. On the other hand, I don't want to go too far towards true 20-60's sci-fi design, because there are also things about it which I do not like.
Another thing I really need to work on is poses. A figure should have potential to connect with other pieces on the board (pointing, gesturing, attaching, etc). A neutral 'concept-art' pose doesn't work here. Still, it's easier to design the details if the figure is just standing neutrally. Anyways, good poses are really really important. I don't want to buy miniature soldiers who look like they are peeing themselves, or riding an invisible horse, or just stand there looking fly-swatted.
Influences to draw from: Machinen Krieger, Junk Tank Rock, Flash Gordon, Doctor Who and old SciFi, Starguard, Megaman Legends, Karmon from AT-43.
This is a greenstuff mockup of a Star Guardian (cloned using digital trickery). The GW 40K Chaplain is for scale. The sculpt is not very detailed, partly because it's a mockup, but also because it's my first sculpt of a full figure. I had many of the beginner mistakes figured out when I was almost done, but then it was too late of course. Here's a few: Don't use green stuff that's over a decade old. Don't use too much blue, because it's hard, making it difficult to attach stuff, merge shapes, remove seams, and knead details in general.
Attach the armature to something. The benefits are two fold: You have something sturdy to hold on to, and, you can work on many different details all over the figure without risking to destroy uncured work. Since Greenstuff hardens slowly, this saves time. I used copper wire (old telephone wire) for the armature, and it snaps if bent back and forth just a few times. The armature needs to not flail around as you model. I did try to dress my armature with some greenstuff blobs to make sculpting easier and to reinforce the armature, but I need to be more careful with the lumps so they represent sensible volumes which I can build on later and save time. It works to scrape off material with a knife.
Maybe that's a preferable work method, build up rough volumes on the armature, cure, scrape/carve off with knife to shape the anatomy more precisely. Then work up the details procedurally rather than knead-sculpting them. If you think ahead, you can do details really fast by just figuring out what lump shape to apply and where to push. I worked with just my nails, a knife and a needle. It was a mistake. Later I made some improvised sculpting tools from plastic sprues but didn't really get a chance to use them. The shoulders are a it high and the knees a bit low. Actually I just painted the white knee-pad blob too low, the actual knees are at the right place. One thing I did right was drawing a little guy on a paper so I could get the scale and proportion roughly right. I should've made a good drawing though, and not a sloppy disproportional mess.
Slightly related: Some Photography tips which I rarely follow myself because I'm always in a hurry.
Making plastic injection miniatures is very expensive, especially with steel molds. Apparently Aluminum is cheaper and more suitable for smaller runs. Valiant Miniatures (a smaller company, afaik) can put out excellent 1:72 WW2 soldier sprues with over 50 guys for under 15 dollar.
I've made several sets of tabletop rules for various projects, but for this particular project I'm thinking about doing something less orthodox. I'm thinking Skirmish scale and quite detailed so customizations on the troops will matter. The fun for me as a gamer-artist is character creation, and I feel that many newer tabletop games have become too abstracted there. The focus has shifted to large scale, fast rules.
To be honest I don't actually like the playing bit that much. So, I'm thinking about a system which only allows indirect control of most troops. The player will directly control the squad leaders, with the grunts interpreting given orders according to certain charts. Robots could be programmed in a similar way. This can produce funny situations, and your troops will be more like characters with a life of their own. Moving off to do something funny, brilliant or stupid. If you have to micromanage all of the troops by yourself that animated quality is somewhat diminished.
At any rate I want to do something different with the rules, to set the game apart from other big tabletop games out there.
May The Invisible Snout Guide Our Will.
The Fascist Autarchs are ruled by an unseen entity know as 'The Invisible Snout'. They have a strong belief in personal liberty and free will. Even so, their society is incredibly uniform because the Autarch believe that there only is one reasonable choice - complete submission to the rule of The Invisible Snout. The Invisible Snout communicates with the Autarchs by blowing bubbles in ponds. The frequency, size and alignment of these bubbles is then interpreted by specialist caste in the Autarch society, the Bubble Readers. Because of this the Autarchs have constructed a large amount of ponds which they spend much of the day observing. Occasionally The Invisible Snout sends the Autarchs out in space to run various Errands and Greater Errands.
The Yaar goes through several phases, each characterized by psychological and physical morphological traits.
The Supmacoppih are quite intelligent, capable of building advanced weapons and spaceships. At the same time they are very fickle and erratic. While it's true that many species have individuals exhibiting those traits, the Supmacoppih are different because do so as a united species.
Aside from being fickle, the Supmacoppih also persistently displays ritual (and spontaneous) cannibalism. Perhaps this cannibalistic behavior is similar to human nail biting. At any rate, it is a bit peculiar since a Supmacoppih does not require much food. The Supmacoppih eat a form of highly nutritious and energy rich sea weed (which is actually grown on land), and they only need to do so about once per month. Right after feeding, the Supmacoppih becomes incredibly energetic, and this is also when they come up with new projects. As the effect slowly declines, they lose focus and become generally disinterested in whatever they're doing.
The Supmacoppih once set their mind to constructing a massive space fleet. With over a billion of them working intensely on the project night and day (the Supmacoppih does not sleep), they made more progress in 3 weeks than other species do in decades. However, by the time they actually launched the fleet, they had gotten bored with it.
Unfortunately the Supmacoppih fleet was close to Earth when the Supmacoppih had their new feeding cycle. As they passed by Earth, they really wanted it because "there was so much water". The renewed zeal of the Supmacoppih was more than Earth's defensive forces could handle. Later, the Supmacoppih realized that they are actually land creatures and didn't quite know what they were thinking, so they abandoned the invasion only two weeks in. What remained of Earth's defenses fell prey to opportunist attacks by other species. Earth was evacuated, and hasn't been resettled since.
More recent Supmacoppih projects include:
After Earth almost fell to the Sea Horses there was a mass migration. Colony ships scattered in all directions. Many fell prey to the Cell. With Earth left in a terrible state and no uninhabited Earth-like planets nearby, it was troublesome to organize the scattered remains of mankind. Eventually a large alien artificial satellite was found (Saturnus-like in shape). Large enough to house many millions of people, it became the center 'Hub' of operation. Here the Star Guardians were formed to safeguard the Hub and round up human colonists. Many human colonies are still unaware of the existence of the Hub, and others have deviated so much from their Earth origins that they want nothing to do with it.
The Star Guardians are equipped with ThunderBall guns and rifles, as well energy swords of the 'Star Gladius' type.
Huge lineup sheet with ideas. I guess the shark fin in the helmet of the blue guys is kinda retro, but I should try a little harder and do some iterations.
Later I was throwing some ideas around for mech units.
(Not to scale.) This started out as a redesign of the Tau battlesuit (40K), but I turned it into something of my own, adding design elements from old cars. I'm not sure what to use it for yet though.
The Cell are robotic pirates and scavengers.
I'm a big fan of pill-bot designs like the Gundam 'Saku'. The frog design is based on StarGuard's 'Norgal Destroyer'.
These obese creatures live in a very consumer oriented society, and because of this they constantly have to conquer new territory and resources. When not taking things by force they just get other aliens to enslave themselves. They do this by sacking economies, bribing leaders and creating demands for a never ending stream of shiny objects. Incidentally, a large portion of the Ocus population is enslaved too.
The Ocus troops hover around on silver discs, as they have gotten too fat to move around on their own. They are well equipped, as much of their resources is spent on the war machine.
Here I'm exploring more ideas for factions. Some kind of Valkyries are pretty much mandatory, but there are many ways to approach that kind of concept. Colonials/Caroleans could be fun too. Typical Sci-Fi silver space suits are pretty much a given. A Zing Empire could be inspired by Flash Gordon's Ming and his forces.
The poses are pretty flat (concept-arty) and not really suitable for miniatures. I need to add more ugly-cool old-school sci-fi designs. The majority (or all) of these needs some refinement and iteration before they are usable. Sometimes it takes a while to see what parts of a design has merit and how to play those up and remove the unnecessary and distracting elements.
Some of these designs borrow parts from famous Sci-Fi characters: There are two robots inspired by Doctor Who's Drathro and Daleks. Then I threw in my redesign from 40K's Chaos Androids I did some heavy redesigning of the now by GW abandoned Dreadnaught and Android design. The Necron has some charm, but I really prefer the look of the old Chaos Androids.
And below are a few concepts which started out as redesigns of the Old Epic Ork Nob and original Beakie Space Marine. I quite like some of the old GW Epic figures. They had to be simple and to the point in terms of masses. It makes it fun to draw interpretations of them. Here I have changed things here and there to 'file off the serial number' (avoid infringement). Since I had put labor into these designs already, I'd figure that I should use them for something. I'm not sure if I should include these particular designs in Star Gladius, because they're a little too typical and doesn't have that retro feel.
I really prefer the Orks from Paul Bonner's time at GW. They had more character and were more fun. My Orks (I might call them Gor, as in Gorilla, or Orgor... Orgot?) are, just like the old GW Orks, capable of structuring their designs, using round shapes rather than haphazardly assembled chunks. I might give them a gorilla black, gray or blue skin tone. Their face needs to 'pop' and be in contrast with the armour/clothes.
The Ork are, just like the LotR Orcs, engineered tough warriors. Similar to the Spemin of Starflight, they often clumsily adapt technologies invented by others. While skilled engineers in their own quirky way, their hands are big and clumpsy. This is why they use enslaved gnomes for doing fine mechanical work.
The Orks never expect a site to offer permanent residence, so many live as nomads. They lack a home world, but there are several regions of space where they cluster up. A local culture often emerges as a result. Overall though, the Ork lack a cultural structure. They reproduce only when they are dead. In a way dead Orks are not actually dead, because their bodies have an abundance of backup organs which allow the body to continue to function as an incubator for the half dozen eggs which they carry inside. Their spawn uses the corpse for nutrition, absorbing it, causing it to shrivel up. To the Ork, a battlefield littered with bodies gives them a positive feeling of rebirth, not death.
Spawns which develop into the larger 'Primes' often also absorb the other eggs. A Prime is generally more intelligent and more serious than the other more playful Orks, so Primes often act as leaders. That said, even a stupid Prime can become a leader simply because it has more muscles.
While Orks can get very old and grow into adulthood within 2 years, they never quite grow up. Young Orks are in some ways very intelligent and capable for their age, but these traits don't improve much by age. The Primes often have trouble keeping their forces in order.
I was just enjoying my Terran Trade Authority books. It's interesting how text and images can bring the universe to life so well. The best designs are probably the K-13 Shark and AAF-212 Hornet.
I'm attempting to paraphrase the Shark so I can put it into my own 'pulp' sci-fi universe. It's problematic because I also have to avoid getting too close to the Star Wars Naboo Fighter which is very close in shape.
My current design philosophy is that a design should:
Concept iterations for a paraphrase of the Shark from the Terran Trade Authority books. I ended up removing a lot of details.
Ship roughs. I might only use one of two of these.
Trying out unusual shapes for some vehicles. Some are kind of MaK (dieselpunk) meets the hopping lump from Journey to Silius. I put an arm on some vehicles because... it can be useful. It could have a little machine gun in the palm. Hover drives are rounded.
2011 note: I've got a little StarGuard page now!
These are from Starguard. I don't have much ref to work from though.
Not sure where these will go. The Ralnai have some kind of hover platform which they ride on, and it's interesting to resist the temptation of making a speeder bike of it. I spent some time trying to redesigns one of the walkers, might pick the one on the right. The bottom figs are obviously of the wrong head scale. I wish there were more photos of StarGuard figs on the net.