Saturday 20 July 2013

Enter the Citadel: Here be Giants - Developing Big Miniatures

Once again, the session started with a few questions on the overhead projector to get things started.

What are the challenges when designing bigger kits?

The biggest problem is scale - making sure details on the model give it pace. You want to have a balance of big areas for painters to play with as well as detailed areas to give it a sense of scale compared to the other models. This can triple or quadruple the amount of time you're spending on developing a kit.

You've also got to make sure it fits in with the rest of the range. For the Riptide, it wasn't just a case of scaling up a Crisis Suit, you need to add more details.

If you're a converter trying to make something look big, one of the simplest tricks is to make sure it has a smaller head. Matt Holland referred back to the old comic book character Thrudd the Barbarian - his tiny, tiny head let you realise that he was massive, even if you weren't seeing him alongside other people. Without tricks like this, the eye assumes the scale.

What was the inspiration for the Riptide?

Big robots are cool.

Matt talked a lot with Jeremy Vetock about the model during the development of the Tau book. They talked about the nova reactor, which resulted in the asymmetrical reactor design. This helped them develop its background and battlefield role. If you know what various bits of detail are, its easier to sculpt them. It enables the suspension of disbelief so people believe it could feasibly work.

Jes added that the big chest on the Wraithknight was to fit in the pilot. Matt and Jes also talked a lot to avoid treading on each other's toes between the Riptide and the Wraithknight. Matt discussed with Jeremy about what to have the Riptide do other than just be a big Crisis Suit. They came up with the idea of a mobile reserve unit, moving quickly to fill a gap in the line of the Fire Warriors, taking out enough of the threat for them to cope, then moving on to the next threat. Simply sculpting a bunch of nice shapes onto the model isn't enough - you design knowing what they are and what they are meant to do.

The new kits also now give the option to either stick with an easy, fixed pose, or to remove the guide pins and make a more complex, animated figure. The designers spent some time on finding a single cool pose to lock each figure into, but gave the option to remove the pins to 're-animate' the figure.

How long does it take to create a figure like this?

Generally, around two years. Actual working time varies. It starts with around two weeks of concept work, and then takes between three to six months to make. This work includes making sure that the kit will fit onto the frames. They need to make sure it will work as a plastic kit.

More models these days are sculpted on computer, although Jes is a pen and paper guy.

How do you decide what models to make?

Dart boards and Star Trek style fights.

Really, it comes down to what you have ideas for. Both Jes and Matt wanted to include a shield on their kit (Riptide and Wraithknight) so they had to communicate a lot to ensure the two designs were sufficiently different. There are two races who have big walkers, the Tau and the Eldar, so in some ways, they were an obvious choice.

They did much better than expected - they couldn't keep the Riptide in stock. Jes acknowledged that this was a bit weird, in the sense of who genuinely thought "big robots won't sell"?

Are there size restrictions on what you can do?

They have to fit the frames into the boxes. The Tau probably don't want to have a bigger walker than the Riptide, so if they have a bigger model, it wouldn't be a walker. In Jes' head, the Knight Titan is about the line. They will put restrictions on themselves, but for the big walkers, the attitude was "why not?".

They need to think about the idea of a gaming board, and the scale of a Space Marine. Scale is an odd thing - "heroic scale", as its called. Games Workshop don't particularly fit to a scale. 28mm is not a scale. They are, theoretically, 1/56 scale.

But you have other challenges. Can you fit 10 Space Marines into a Rhino? Only if you really get your foot in and force it! They need to not reach the point where a model is unwieldy to move around. They have done drafts to get the size right. Who knows what the future holds with regards the size of models?

Jes made a little side point that "Marines are the right size."

Is there anything Forge World have done you'd like to do?

Some of Jes' old Eldar designs went to Forge World. They don't really find redoing something of Forge World's as exciting as doing something new. They don't want to tread on their toes, either.

How do you find inspiration for new units for established and restrictive ranges like the Space Marines?

Jes is not keen on doing a big walker for Marines, as that isn't how the army works. They would look to try and think of something else. They would look at the core archetypes for their range? Is a big tank suited to the Marines? Not really. They are a rapid reaction force. Variant APCs are something Jes would find more interesting in the Marine army. Jes has now 'handed over' Marines to younger folk.

Could Tyranids go bigger?

They could definitely go bigger. They could fill in the gap. The Trygon was kind of the first of the big miniatures on that scale.

How do you decide where to split up a big model?

Right at the beginning. They also start work on the frame layout right at the start. Some models are easy to find lines to break the model up, others, such as the Hellpit Abomination, are really hard. Plastic can only be so thick, and you can only have detail on one angle in the mould. You have to have those things in mind from the start.

Sometimes, they have to move details. Seals and ammunition packs can hide joins. They are designers for an industrial process, working within specific technical constraints, and that is part of the challenge.

Is there a concern that big models will dominate the game?

The models Games Workshop make are not just gaming pieces. They are also catering to collectors and painters. The designers aren't concerned about it at all. In many ways, that's the writers' problem. Also, you need infantry to look up to the big kits to show the scale. The big models are the icing on the cake - and big fancy models are cool.

There was then a technical section about injection moulding technology and sliding cores - quite frankly, I got lost... So, on to the next question.

Have Games Workshop considered magnetising their kits?

Not really. People are free to modify them to do so, but Games Workshop can't produce the relevant magnets in house - which is another component. They'd be left unable to control the price of the models. Its left as something people can choose to do if they want, but the kits aren't actively designed with that in mind.

What about 3D printing?

3D printing isn't there yet. The resolution isn't good enough for 28mm scale. The desktop machines extrude plastic, and that doesn't have the detail. Higher end machines which have more detail are very expensive. Games Workshop use them for rapid prototyping. Volume and price just isn't there at the moment.

Jes thinks it will take longer than five to ten years for it to become a real challenge, and even then, Games Workshop could easily adopt the technology. The technology might allow you to make an online purchase to print at home, or allow you to scan your face and have it put on a model. You could pick your weapons before your model was printed. It wouldn't necessarily be the end of the stores, either - you could go into the stores to get models or custom parts printed in store.

Do you prefer plastic figures or resin for hero models?

Jes likes the challenge of plastics. Not trying to make the character models compatible with the rest of the range frees you up a bit. Matt's Savage Orc was an example, where the ponytail and shoulder were one part.

Plastic is the best medium for reproducing the sculptor's work at the moment. Metal and resin shrinks and warps. You have different constraints for different models. Eventually, it is likely that they will go all plastic.

Jes then finished by mentioning that the flexiblity could also have some halfway houses. For example, his recent Farseer model does have a comparable neck fitting for the rest of the Eldar line. There's a range of configurations they'll be able to work with in the future.

This article is one of a series on my experiences at Enter the Citadel.


  1. Very cool - Thanks for sharing!

    1. Not a problem. There were quite a few bloggers at this, so when I was slow, it ended up going up on various forums and so on - but I think I had the highest word count!

  2. Jes can keep saying that "Marines are the right size" all he likes, they patently aren't. Normal human minis made by GW are approx 30mm tall(to the top of the head, none of this to the eyes nonsense), and so are Space Marines. In order for Marines to be "the right size", GW would have to redo their entire range of humans to be no higher than 26.5mm, which evidently isn't going to happen.

    Sorry chief, it's a great writeup and thanks for it, but it seems Jes takes a pop at tru/artscale Marine modellers at every event he attends now, and his flat denial in the face of reality is beginning to grate :P

    1. I suspect Jes gets a lot of flak from some "true scale" modellers too. I think the relevant point is that he's not claiming that they are to scale or not - he's claiming they are the right size.

      Marine model height has remained consistent with the rest of the range since the early days - they have never been significantly bigger. It could be seen as a shame, but there is no way GW is ever going to invalidate either the entire Marine range or everything else. It's just impossible. Can you imagine the screaming if they changed the scale of all the existing models? Overnight, old models aren't compatible with new, entire army ranges are invalid - they can't rescale and recut that many moulds.

      Note that he did not say that they were the right scale. I think he's trying to make the point that due to some of the decisions made in the very early days, Warhammer 40K is not all "to scale", but rather things are approximate. No-one is going to stop you resizing your marines, but you also won't get any GW employee, and especially not a sculptor, saying that their design approach is "wrong", whether the scale or anything else.