Monday 13 January 2014

The Chaos All-Star: An Interview with Phil Lewis

Regular reader's will probably remember the interview with Andy Craig I did this time last year. During our discussions, Andy told us about life in 'Eavy Metal, within the famous, and highly creative, GW studios of the mid to late 1980s. Like Andy explained in his interview, Tim Prow, Mike McVey and Ivan Bartlett, among others, banged out thousands of painted models; some classics to this day, others, well, not quite so memorable - Iron Claw skeletons anyone? Judging by the outstanding variety of these painted models, as anyone who has ever cast his eye over Bryan Ansell's 'toy soldier' (as he calls them) collection will testify, it was a time of enormous creativity, with the development of the Warhammer 40,000 universe bringing in a wealth of new models and background materials. Blood Bowl was on its second incarnation, supported by a massive range of models, including the memorable Star Players. Heroquest, and Advanced Heroquest were developed, as were Space Crusade and Advanced Space Crusade. Dark Future, Space Marine and Adeptus Mechanicus took fans of Citadel and British Tabletop gaming to the new and original places.

Residing over the photography, and later miniature management, of all this was Phil Lewis. I had been keen to track him down since interviewing Andy Craig, and through the wonders of the 21st century I was led to the Pendraken Forum (10mm specialists who do some excellent historical models, but that is for another blog some day...) and a sculptor going by the name of Techno. I had it under good authority that this wasn't some enthusiast of early '90s dance music with a perchant for sculpting Thirty Years War miniatures but Phil Lewis himself. With a little help from Steve Casey, Phil agreed to do an interview for us to give us a little understanding about his time at GW.


RoC80s: I have heard that reading Lords of the Rings was responsible for your interest in fantasy wargaming! Could you tell us a little more about those very early days and when you first became aware of Citadel Miniatures?

PL: It'll probably seem a very strange answer but my start with the gaming industry was effectively down to a really bad stomach bug or food poisoning! I'd been laid up in bed for a few days and was starting to reach the stage where I didn't want to simply wallow there and feel sorry for myself. The better half had just finished the Lord Of The Rings and suggested it as something to pass the time. I loved it! There was an 'old fashioned' model shop a few hundred yards up the road from where we then lived, and I noticed they had some LOTR figures in the window and I think they were by Heritage. Having bought virtually every single blister (almost the only figures I've still got now) I came across some of the really early Citadel models, the Fantasy Adventurer range, and so I started buying loads of those to paint, eventually starting playing a kind of an amalgam of D&D and AD&D.....

I was hooked on the figures by now!

Heritage Lord of the Rings miniatures circa 1978. These miniatures, and others like them, first inspired Phil to get painting. From the collection of Dead March Spectre.
RoC80s: You were a contributor to the early Citadel Journals and these contributions lead to a job at GW. Could you explain what exactly happened and how you were employed?

PL: Again, it's one of those strange 'quirks of fate', if I can put it like that. The wife had recently bought herself a horse (horses are HER passion) and I used to get dragged along to shows to watch either her or friends competing. I used to get bored silly - worse than that really! One of the wife's friends suggested I take up photography as something to pass the time at these 'events'....and it worked! I really 'got into' photographing the horses going over jumps, splashing through water etc (I was really after a shot of someone falling in, if I'm honest) and it taught me a lot. The next thing was, that the photography and the passion for the models got combined. So a different photographic 'discipline' had to be learnt. Once I'd reached a stage where I wasn't actually ashamed of the photos, or my efforts at painting (though painting wise I cringe at the memory now) I started sending odd photos up to the 'old' White Dwarf' that was still produced in London. Joe Dever used to write an article each month called Tabletop Heroes, and one month, apparently unknown to Joe, there was a black and white picture of mine on the text page!

I was SO chuffed.

I ended up sending Joe a few photos each month and he used a fair few of them. I was even more chuffed for they were in colour now! I used a similar approach in simply sending a number of photos to Citadel's then factory at Eastwood in Nottingham and they used odd ones in some of the journals.This was even better because I used to get sent pre-release copies of loads of models direct from the factory each month. For someone who collected the figures it couldn't get much better than that.If remember correctly, when White Dwarf's production was moved to Nottingham there was a month or two when the 'new' version  of Tabletop Heroes/'Eavy Metal looked a bit 'thin'. Looking back now, that was hardly surprising, moving a magazine lock, stock and barrel from one part of the country to another. I mean, White Dwarf appeared on the shelves each month by magic and I didn't have a CLUE how much work could be involved in producing a magazine at that stage. Anyway, being keen pay back something for all the free figures I was getting, I wrote to Nottingham, basically saying; "anything I can do to help ?"About a week or two later, out of the blue, I had a phone call from John Blanche. 

"The boss wants to know why you want to be a figure painter."

"Ah....No John...I just wanted to see if there was anything I could to help." I replied.

"Oh right.....In that case, we're after a full time photographer....Are you interested ?"

The rest, as they say, is history.

A varied spread of painted miniatures by Phil from an early edition of 'Eavy Metal. There are some great ideas worth stealing here. The black, pink and flesh colour scheme of the Chaos Sorcerer and the rainbow coloured mohican. 

Advanced Heroquest miniatures. Painted by Phil Lewis. From the collection of Orclord?

RoC80s: You have stated that you worked in 'various capacities' while at GW. One of these was the taking charge of photography at the studio. How was the photography organised? Were you responsible for many of the miniature set ups in the 1987 Warhammer Fantasy Battle rulebook, for example?

PL: How was the photography organised ? Hmmmm. To a certain extent is was down to 'what was ready' on any particular day. For a month or two after I joined  the studio didn't have its own plate camera, so I'd wander up to a studio a few hundred yards away and they'd take the 'big plate' shots. Then I got to spend lots on a wonderful set of kit, and it was all systems go at the studio. I haven't got the book in front of me for checking, so I can't say for absolute certainty now, if I'm credited in the cover as photographer I'd have probably taken virtually all of them. Though there may have been 'stock' photos that were used that were taken before the time I joined. As far as setting up shots would have been concerned, I tended to rely on John Blanche to come and have a look at the composition before I clicked the shutter. Either that, or I'd take a Polaroid shot and run downstairs to show him what it looked like. Sometimes it was "Go for it"... Other times he'd get me to tweak something slightly.
Phil Lewis in action with the three light set up. In these days of digital photography much of the skill seems to be gone from the art of capturing an image. You didn't actually know if the picture would come out until it was developed back then! Is it too easy these days?
RoC80s: Andy Craig has told us many a wild story about his time working under you as part of the figure painting team. How did you end up in charge of the painting department? How was it run? And what made a miniature 'good enough for White Dwarf?'

PL: That was almost a natural progression from the photography, I suppose. As there were times when there wasn't anything to actually photograph, or I wasn't strolling back and forth to the place where we got the photos developed, I seemed to spend a fair amount of time down with the figure painters. A lot of the time it would involve me asking something like; "when can I have the figures to photo?.We need the films back in the studio by tomorrow ready for WD." I ended up helping in his capacity as the chap then in charge of the figure painting part off the studio gradually took more and more on andso that he could concentrate on other stuff he had to do. I got bored with taking photos all day and ended up 'taking over' the figure painting unit.

What made a figure 'good enough?' To a certain extent it was down to deadlines. Sometimes the painters would have days and days to paint a range, if the figures came over from Eastwood in plenty of time. On other occasions a number of figures would turn up with almost no time to get them painted and photographed. Those tended to be 'rush jobs', and it was a case of "that's as good as we can do in the time we've got!" The one thing to me, was that the overall standard of painting improved as the painters swapped techniques and ideas.

RoC80s: And those wild and amusing anecdotes of your time with the company?

PL: I remember trying to stop Mike Brunton sneaking a plastic sheep onto one of the ROC battles that we photographed in the studio... he didn't try but then I was watching him like a hawk! Or nearly electrocuting myself on one of the flash units when it went bang! Honest Guv, I disconnected everything and then stuck my fingers into it to bend the 'pins' back into place and got a hell of a belt from what I assume was a capacitor kick. I went downstairs swearing, told another member of staff what I'd done and falsely assumed that I'd completely discharged the unit through meWRONG! So when he stuck his fingers in, he got a nice belt too!

Or there was the time I thought I'd gone completely mad. I broke a tiny little aerial from one of Tony Cottrell's Dark Futures plastic car conversions. I wasn't going to try and repair someone else's work, so I locked the photography room and went to look for Tony. I couldn't find him anywhere...So I went back to the Photography Room. I unlocked the door, looked at the car and ... eh? The aerial was back in place! A few minutes later, Tony came down and said;

"Did you want to see me Phil?"

"Er ...yes...but..." (dribble, dribble.)

Fortunately, Tony couldn't keep a straight face and admitted that he'd heard what had happened and had used a spare key (which I'd forgotten about), sneaked into the room while I was wandering around looking for him, mended the car and then relocked the room!
Then there was Trish Morrison (as she was then) playing a joke on me, and pretending that she was going to resign as a designer, soon after Bob Olley and Mark Copplestone had said they were  leaving Workshop.
This was when I was Miniatures Co-ordinator. So it was bad enough thinking about how to re-jig things at that point.

She took pity on me when she saw how far my face fell.

RoC80s:  Between 1988 and 1990 GW produced three 'Golden Demon Fantasy Miniatures' Books. Were you just the photographer behind these projects or did you have a wider involvement?

PL: Now you're asking !!

think with the first one I simply took all the photos. The other two, I believe, would have been photographed by Chris Colson who took over the photography from me. I might have helped with some of the text and co-ordinating of the figures but I can't really remember now. Again, if I had the books in front of me, I'd have a better idea!

A blurry Phil Lewis joined Bryan Ansell and co to judge the entries at a Golden Demon event.
RoC80s: Your Chaos All Stars team for Bloodbowl is still very famous and homages are still being produced today. Could you give us the story of these models and what their eventual fate was?

PL: When the Chaos All Stars appeared simply as a drawn colour plate in White Dwarf, I thought they looked dead zippy so I just decided to try and 'make' the team. Some of the figures and poses could be relatively quickly converted from existing models we made at the time. So I did some conversions for those but there were a couple that proved more challenging, so I made these from scratch. Bryan Ansell allowed me to have those particular ones pressed and cast up and I think I originally ended up with all the copies, as they weren't really up to par for Citadel to release. Many years ago now, I sold almost my entire collection of Citadel models, because they were gradually being moved up into the attic and I had a larger than expected tax bill one year, OUCH! I think the chap that ended up with them, and as far as I know still has them is Tom Anders of Impact Miniatures. The last time I looked, the firm produces loads of different figures/races for their own Blood Bowl style teams.

A later 'Eavy Metal spread of some of the Chaos All-Stars. The quality of the presentation had clearly improved over time, as had the quality of the photographs of the miniatures themselves. From White Dwarf 114.
RoC80s: For a while you 'edited' the 'Eavy Metal articles in White Dwarf. How were there articles selected and put together? Could you just show the models you liked or was their far more creative control?

PL: From memory, we always had a plan on what the next 'Eavy Metal would contain. Sometimes it would be very structured as if there was a rule book or game  due for release then that's what we'd really be concentrating on. Sometimes there would be planning going on for well over a month on these. Though on these occasions 'the big feature' might be going on as a gradual 'slow burner', so we didn't have an impossible task to do it all in one month. Other times, although we had a good idea on what we were going to do, it could end up as relatively free as regards content. Odd months, strange though it might sound, there could almost be big gaps that needed filling. I suppose you could say, it could be swings and roundabouts, and almost anything suitable (or just 'nice') could find it's way into the articles.

RoC80s: You have said you did 'four years at GW until you were surplus to requirements'. What other roles did you have during that time?

PL: Well as I have said, I was the photographer first, then I ran the figure painting department. After that I was given the title of 'Miniatures Co-ordinator', which basically meant trying to keep 'tabs' on the designers. What they were working on, how long was it likely to take to finish the current projects, and then what was planned for each designer after that particular project. It sort of worked in the respect that I could give the factory some sort of clue as to when they might expect master figures to go over for pressing but usually the dates kept slipping forwards. I wasn't particularly happy doing that, I have to admit, So Bryan (bless him) gave me a much more fun job to do, making plans for buildings and scenery with Dave Andrews, which we put into White Dwarf.

Dave is, I think, one of the absolute top men in this particular 'field'. He'd make something (like a cottage or house) from total scratch, really really quickly! Once he'd finished, I'd sit there and 'dissect it'. Not physically I hasten to add. We'd work out the dimensions and then do a 'plan/diagram' which we popped into WD, with stage by stage photos of the Mk2 as it was being built.

RoC80s: You judged a number of Golden Demon awards in the 1980s. How serious was the judging taken? Did anyone have the final say?

PL: I was only 'chief judge' the one time and then I had help from quite a few others from the studio. The trouble was we'd end up with a number of different 'favourites'! John Blanche would be the one with the final say. But YES, it was taken very seriously. With the amount of time and effort that went into the entries, it would have been so wrong to have done anything else.

I think my only regret was that doing it all in one day, as we did then, it felt a bit rushed.

Phil Lewis chaos warband. From the collection of Orclord.
RoC80s: You have stated that once you left GW you became a figure designer. Any special projects or memorable moments?

PL: Not especially, though I've had figures eaten by dogs owned by the 'MDs' of the firms that had commissioned the work. One three occasions! By the same dog twice, though! This meant I got paid twice in each case, though it's a tad boring making exactly the same thing twice. I've enjoyed making all the figures for the firms I've worked for, though I did get a bit fed up with 'straight-line' work after making an enormous number of Mech type models for both Ral Partha and WizKidz. I never seem to have the time to do special personal projects. The only time I have done something like that, the models never got a proper release, so there are only about 8 sets of the original 'Kaos Krew'  floating around as I think that's all that were made from the original mould. I actually repaired the greens and had 12 or copies of each cast up for myself. Those are sitting in a box in one of the barns outside now.

I am sure that you will all show you appreciation to Phil for taking time out of his busy schedule to complete this interview for us. Its taken some time to get things sorted out but I am sure that you will agree that the wait was worth it. After completing the interview and researching the images I was going to use in this article I tried to find out a little more about the Chaos All-Stars and was pleased to find a number of projects in recent years had come to fruition. The first is a little project to paint up the Chaos All-Stars using Phil's original team as inspiration. Have a read of this mission statement and then follow the link. There are some truly lovely painted models in this particular collection.

Secondly, I found a link to the impact miniatures website that once sold the new castings of Phil's converted Citadel models and original sculpts. Sadly, these miniatures are out of production now, which is real shame as I would have bought the lot there and then. It appears that there is a little 'history' between the modern GW and Impact in recent times, which may well explain this. As you will have read above, only a few hundred castings were made of the models so they must be kicking about on the collection scene somewhere. Hopefully, one day, more reasonably priced versions will see the light of day once again. Then we can all own our own Chaos All-Stars.

Finally, Joe Dever and Gary Chalk have made their editions of Tabletop Heroes available on-line. All the articles they worked on are here I believe, including a great many with contributions from Phil. There is a great deal of inspiration here, especially close up shots of painted examples of classic miniatures that have not been readily available for viewing online before. I really do recommend popping over to the site and downloading a free pdf of this material.



  1. Great stuff! I pored over that Allstars article first time round and was delighted to get hold of one of the official "recast" sets from Impact a couple of years back. I took them to the 2012 Bloodbowl in Lenton... and didn't do very well; a challenging team to play!

    Here they are:

  2. Just a clarification. GW and Impact! have no history. Impact! has never received a single letter or email of either a friendly (or legal (ie C&D)) nature.

    Okay that aside ... I do proudly still own Phil Lewis's original Chaos All-Stars team ( ) and another photo of the team with the the original sculpts I received in a later purchase in my display case of old White Dwarf Blood Bowl figures are here ( ).

    The All-Stars figures were never sold by Impact! in their online store (I have them in the OOP section of Impact! since I helped with getting them made as give aways for the Games Workshop Chaos Cup Blood Bol tournament in Chicago each year. Yes ... I worked with (not against) GW to have these old figures of Phil Lewis cast up as give aways to each tournament player at the Blood Bowl Chaos Cup while it was being organized by Games Workshop each year.

    The figures were never sold by Impact!. I personally sold some extras left over after the Chaos Cup events through Ebay which is most likely what Rab is remembering as fund raiser items in order to pay for the moulding/casting of the next year's free figures that GW gave away at the Chaos Cup event. Several years ago when Games Workshop transferred setting up the Chaos Cup to private individuals I gave the cast stock of the figures I had worked with GW Chicago to create to an interested party.

    However I know the person still that picked those casts the All-Star sculpts and if you really are interested in picking them up orlygg, you can contact me through Impact!'s website (or our Facebook account) and I can put you in touch with him to see if he still has any left. It should be noted for collecting purposes ... I did NOT strip off the paint of Phil's original work that was had been painted (that would be destroying history to me). Working with Games Workshop Chicago ... I had purchased original master metal casts of Phil's sculpts of Juergen Demonfeeder and Garak Grigolson that were original cast by GW so those were moulded and cast up for the GW Chaos Cup event with their approval. The other original characters that were given away at future years Chaos Cup tournaments at Games Workshop were created by Phil Bowen who took the original stock figures that Phil Lewis had converted and then converted them to match as closely as possible the conversions Phil Lewis had done ... those figures were Sark Four-Eyes, Snake Sanders, Krefft the Despised, Acid Scarred Max and Constrictor Atlanson. So these 5 are very similar to the Phil Lewis models for these characters ... but are not exact.

    I still work with the folks that run the Chaos Cup to help them have an original Chaos All-Stars inspired figure each year as a give away but they are no longer limited edition. Starting the 2nd year of the Chaos Cup back in 2005 ... there has been a Chaos All-Stars figure give away ... so Phil Lewis' work to sculpt and bring this team to life so many years ago still very much lives on in a traditional that still goes on today. In fact, the give away figure for the 2013 Chaos Cup was a figure that Phil Lewis told me he had originally sculpted as a wizard/apothecary for the Chaos All-Stars team ( )

    Long post ... it took me 3 years after finding out where this team went to manage to collect and purchase all the pieces of Phil Lewis' original work ... I'm still glad I spent the time and money to get it all!

  3. Realized someone might not understand how I can talk about working with GW and at the same time say that Impact! has never received an emails from GW. Tom Anders (hi that is me) worked with Games Workshop for a period of 5 years as the project leader on the rewriting of the Blood Bowl rules to the current rules used by the game. During this time, my personal email exchanged a LOT of emails with Games Workshop (both Corporate-UK and Chicago). But never my business (Impact! Miniatures) which I did not start until after I had finished the Blood Bowl rewrite project. Any communication I've ever had with Games Workshop has been related to my working for them. GW has never had any communication with Impact! of either a friendly or legal variety. Off topic ... but I realized that my post above made no sense with starting with the first sentence and then talking about my working with GW. Apologies.

    1. Thanks for adding your story Tom and clearing things up for people with the Impact Miniatures line. Thanks for the offer about passing me on to your contact about tracking down anymore of these figures but my funds are to be held in reserve do to my ongoing dental work, sadly. Though that doesn't stop any of else who has read this interview from doing the same. It is great to here that the models Phil worked on are still safe in someone's collection and are being enjoyed to this day.

  4. Thanks very much Phil for taking the time to let us all share in your story, and thanks Orlygg for another blast from the golden era.

    Just thinking of the collection of minis that Phil has had the opportunity to be up close to- it's insane. I'm sure I am not the only one who would give a lot to have even one day's experience as the photo guy for the old design studio.

    Keep up the great work.

    1. Having had the pleasure of coming face to face with hundreds of those models at the Foundry, I can honestly say that the camera cannot capture the brilliance of some of those models. So I agree with you totally.

  5. Thanks for this James, and what a cracking mullet Bryan is sporting in that pic :-)

    1. I'm in that pic. I'm standing to the left of Phil. I did a couple of weeks work experience at the GW Design Studio and then got paid to work at the Golden Demon Awards at the end of it.

    2. Bryan and co look pretty rough and ready in that pic don't they. You wouldn't want to give them any lip about their choices of haircut would you? Great to reconnect you to that GD Peter, its a small world isn't it. It must have been quite a thing to do work experience at GW... How did you wrangle that?