Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Growing Your Own: The Possibility of Oldhammer Style Miniatures?

Insert Chaos Weapon here...
Recently, I have been waxing lyrical about two of the big three heavyweights of own niche of niche hobby, namely wargames scenarios and games tables.

So what's the third, you may wonder?

Well, if gaming in in highest form consists of creating your own detailed and challenging scenarios and working with others in your gaming group to produce massive, ambitious gaming tables then surely designing your own miniatures to actually play with is of equally great importance?

After spending an idle hour or two researching about how manufacturers (and committed wargamers) actually design and cast metal (and resin) models I got to wondering if I could do it myself. As far as I understand, casting in metal is a skill to be developed and improved just like writing, painting or sculpting. There are also a wide range of products available on-line that allow you to create rubber moulds and produce components and models at home.

This got me thinking (hypothetically, I mighty add) about what I'd want from a range of miniatures that would enhance the collection of Old School lead that I already own. Here are my thoughts on my 'ethos' of a miniature range...

1) The miniatures should be cast in metal. This is the material I prefer as they feel solid and 'real'. The weight of metal provides, for me anyway, with a far more tactile experience over plastic or resin. 

2) The design ethos needs to be based in reality. Unrealistic armours and weapons are not to my tastes. Nothing pushes me away from a range like oversized weapons (or weapons that would be useless if actually used by real soldiers) or ridiculous armours (like those often worn by female characters, that offer no real protection and plenty of flesh to oggle).

3) Use historical reference as major source material, particularly the later medieval period. This should be reflected in character clothing, equipment and so on. 

4) Inject character back into the models. No ranks of identikit blandness for me, and no multi-part plastic kits. I want my models to have a 'soul' to them. And I am sorry, the only way to achieve this is to have a sculptor skilled enough to actually put one there. 

Pig Faced Orcs by Otherworld. Though based on the design ethos of American D&D fantasy, they prove that Old School inspired models are a possibility.
So this leaves me to ask a few questions. Do you agree with my 'ethos' on design? Have you ever cast your own models, and if so can you offer any hints or tips at how best to start? Have you ever commissioned a sculptor to produce a mini, if so, how much did they charge?

Hoping to hear from you all soon...



  1. Great set of principles to work from. I've commissioned around a dozen or so figures for my gaming group, and in addition to those principles (which are really preference), it is critical to have a quality sculptor and some concept art for him/her to work from. My first commissions were from hobbyists sculpting from written descriptions of figures; I would only now use experienced sculptors working from concept art. The improvement in quality and accuracy to the original idea is huge. As for cost, expect to pay £150-200 for a sculpt depending on who you use.

  2. Sounds good. Just don't discount multipart things. I know I'd probably be flayed if I said that there are many good things about modern miniatures (as well as bad, depending on your preference), but if you did something like a set of the orcs you showed above, having the arms on a metal sprue would allow you increase your variety. Also, if you want more than, say, 10 models that look different, you're stuck whether you like old-school gw figures or modern ones - repetition will happen eventually.

    I support your plans though, just some quick thoughts on the subject. Would love to see a UK-minded counterpart /complement to Otherworld's stuff! Kickstarter anyone?

    1. Of course Otherworld is a UK company, I meant the subject matter, more psychedelic 2000ad/old GW than D&D.

  3. I've been dabbling with sculpting for a while (Check out my Blood Bowl troll here: http://mdarrow.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-second-string-sculpts-finished-troll.html); it's cheap and I have much more time than money for my hobby by far.

    I might try casting someday, maybe even make a garage kit. I've read a lot about a DIY casting kit called "Smooth-on". It's meant for resin, but I've read that it might be possible to use it for metal injection or drop casting. Worth checking out.

    My own philosophy is starting to turn towards supporting small, high-quality mini companies when I can buy minis, and simply sculpting my own one-off, unique designs when I can't. That way, I own my hobby as much as possible. Of course I only really play skirmish games, so that makes it easier.

  4. As a propmaker with plenty of experience sculpting and casting (although only recently down to 28mm scale)I can vouch that "smooth-on" silicones will do you fine... although it's not one product and you need to make sure you're using the right one. Crucial is the 'shore A hardness', the more complex your model the lower Shore A you want the silicone so that it will pull out from deep recesses. It's also vital to plan your moulds very carefully, unless it's an uber-simple model you're going to need at least a 2-part case mould and where you plan your mould lines and vents will have a massive impact on the success of the casting. I'd advise starting out with a water-density casting resin like Por-A-Kast rather than pewter or other low-melting-point metal alloy. This is purely for definition purposes. The resin will flow nicely into all the detail whereas the pewter tends to form a bit of a skin resulting in softened edges. Of course, that in itself may help with the Oldhammer 80s look (certainly in marked contrast to Finecast).

  5. Let me crash in with what is sure to be a controversial contribution... :)

    Firstly, I agree with ideals of metal, reality, historical reference & character, and agree that much of what's wrong with GW these days is personified in their CAD minis, modern tech allows us to really take up the DIY ideals of Oldhammer in away that only large manufacturers could in the past.

    Now, I could sculpt a green. It might not exactly rock, but it would function. Sculpting those bad boys is highly skilled. However I'd fail at creating a vulcanised rubber mould, could probably muster a silicone one that won't get more than a few minis out before splitting, and casting in metal is scary but straightforward, though you won't get ideal results unless you can spin the mould.

    However, if you embrace tech, but with the ideals of 'The Oldhammer Hobby', a more moderately skilled individual (i.e someone without skills in sculpting greens, pulling a rubber mould off a tin, and casting in metal) can actually sculpt an old hammer mini digitally (the main benefit being it not appearing tiny, and having an undo function!), and get in 3D printed (sadly, in plastic - metal's just no there yet for this purpose) themselves.

    And I'd say the DIY part is a bit part of what we're trying to get back to.

    1. I'm sure I saw something, somewhere that said that you can 3D print in some form of wax which can then be used to create a mould that will work for metal casting...

    2. Take a look around the Tactical Command forums and check out the members digitally sculpting 6mm minis for casting in metal. IIRC the material of the original prints is some kind of translucent blue plastic.

  6. You'd get more than a few casts out of a silicone mould, silicone technology has come on a long way in the last decade as well. Personally I'd find 3d printing figures very unsatisfying, I have access to a 3d printer at work but it seems so soul-less compared to actually getting my hands on the green stuff!

  7. One thing I miss is collecting side of the hobby nowadays. Mostly GW is to blame here, with their "regiment in da box" philosophy, but other companies are not that far off. Even though I got into gaming at the time of 5th edition of WHFB, I still remember being able to get 36 different metal gobbo archers (or "stickas" in oldhammerish). Today you'll get 10 different bodies (if that much) with some arms and heads variation; no soul, no character, even if the detail is crisp. TBH take all that detail, plastic and 3D modelling, but give me clumps of metal that have some personality. And make 20 different swordsmen, I'll buy them all. One can dream...

  8. For total Oldhammerness it can only be metal and true scale i.e. realistic sized weapons, armour etc. The GW Lord of the Rings minis really adhere to these principals. The plastics are pants but the metals are rather gorgeous. Sadly not Warhammer so I've never been tempted to collect 'em.

  9. Dave Kings Bederken Dwerg are like Realm of Chaos version of Chaos Dwarves, all mutant weirdness. Those are definitely retro-warhammsterish.

    I suppose one of the things that separated GW from TSR imagery in the 80s is the outlandishness of the designs, Chaos Warriors, spikez, skullz, elves with huge plumed helmets (thanks Tom!) bezerker mohawks.

    1. Oh yeah! Dave King's sculpts are outstanding!

  10. I'm aware that 3D printed minis are sub-optimal, just that any DIY miniature is (essentially by definition) a step in the right direction, and while metal minis are the ideal, I'd hate anyone actually making there own minis for Oldhammerto feel excluded.

    I've just been checking out the Forgeworld Horus Heresy stuff, and while not metal, they scream Rogue Trader to me.

  11. I don't think any effort to make your own oldhammer minis would go unappreciated. A lot of the design ethos is the 'Mad Max' style 80's tastic thing that was going on at the time (hence the mohawks etc), so anything that looks like it could be on the cover of a Glam/Trash Metal album cover seems fine to me (he says, rediscovering a love of Mercyful Fate...). There's a reason they were called Da 'Eavy Metal Brush Boyz...

  12. I've had a go at sculpting in an oldhammer style and casting in metal. There are a couple of posts on my blog about it here http://devlanmud.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/sculpting-chaotic-evil-warrior.html and here http://devlanmud.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/casting-chaotic-evil-warrior.html.

    It is a fun project to do and surprisingly easy. The alloy I cast with can be melted on a standard cooker hob and gives a reasonable reproduction of detail from the mould. RTV Silicone is also easy to work with and I've had about 50 metal casts from one mould without any degradation.

  13. Man, that's a complicated-looking armature. I get the feeling the sculptor would've spent more time bending that into shape than slapping putty on it.

    "Do you agree with my 'ethos' on design?"

    Oh yes. Especially #2.

    "Have you ever commissioned a sculptor to produce a mini...?"

    Not to deprive sculptors of jobs, but what're the specific barriers to trying it yourself?