Saturday 25 January 2014

The Grand Master Returns: A Second Interview with Tony Ackland

I am sure that it came as quite a shock to you as it did me, when the news broke that Mick Leach, of Eastern Front Studios, had commissioned Tony Ackland to produce concepts for a new range of 'Oldhammer' inspired miniatures, now called Antiquis Malleum. Considering the amount of traffic that has flooded this blog since the announcement, its obvious that lots of other people are also very intrigued by this project. For many, its come just at the right time, as various members of the community have been struggling to make an Oldhammer miniature a reality. If this project is a success, it will be a green light for smaller groups to successfully crowdfund and produce similar miniatures. I am lucky enough to have seen the concepts that have been held back and I can assure you that the best stuff has yet to be seen. With excellent sculptors like Tim Prow and Drew Williams on board, we know that the modelling side of the project is in very safe hands indeed. 

Hot on the heels of this news is Tony Ackland's second interview with us - and here is the link to his first, if you are coming to this post cold. As we have come to expect, Tony is extremely generous with his time and knowledge and he patiently answered our many (and rambling) questions. This time we take a closer look at where the influences behind the artwork for Warhammer were drawn, as well as exploring Tony's contribution to Marienburg and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay in greater detail. 

I am sure that you will all join me in thanking Tony for his time with us and that you enjoy a second stroll into the recollections of the Grand Master of Chaos. 

An indenpendent daemon from the Lost and the Damned.
RoC80s: So tell us, how did Eastern Front Studios manage to tempt you to return to creating chaos inspired art considering you've retired, and was it easier to slip back into form after so many years?

TA: It came out of the blue as a Facebook message. Although I am retired I do occasionally take on small jobs now and then. I have recently done the All Quiet on the Martian Front concepts, and some World War One style posters. I have also finished a Fantacide Map and provided illustrations and concepts. I did have a look back at some of the images from that period I have filed away. The overall look was not that difficult to get back into. Its kind of in my DNA now. What I had to check was how I handled the smaller details back then. As for inspiration, I read a lot of science fiction, fantasy and horror stories. I watched lots of films in the same genres. I also have an interest in natural history, with a particular fascination for invertebrates. So I suppose with all that imagery floating around my head it all came out sort of naturally. 

A heavily mutated spawn of Khorne. This saw print in a number of places, including the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Companion. 

RoC80s: As most readers will not be professional artists could you explain if the process of creating these concepts has changed in any way since you began work on the Realms of Chaos project in the mid '80s?

TA: Actually it is not very different. I use the computer as a drawing and painting tool using traditional techniques, e.g. a graphics pad and pen simulating various brushes and pens. A lot of guys doing concepts in the video game field use 3D programs too. Also, some plastic miniatures are now produced using CAD programs rather then pantographic scaling. 

RoC80s: Last time we spoke, your Malal art created a great deal of interest. What can you tell us about the origins of these pieces of art and how his/her pantheon was to be organised?

TA: They were concept illustrations of lesser daemons that were not used. I think that the insectoid ones were for Malal.  I think it was that one that was the riding beastie, and the other one a kind of war dog. I don't think that Malal himself was particularly insectoid though. This was probably me just trying to give vent to my inner entomologist when I started designing the daemons. These concepts were not only for miniature design but also to help develop future illustrations. It was accepted in the studio that the illustrations would show the 'reality' of what the miniatures represented. So the miniatures would have been simplified to some extent. The problem with Malal was that by the time Wagner and Grant has contributed their bit it was hard to pin down distinct characteristics. In comparison, the other Chaos Gods were very heavily planned. Bryan Ansell had the original ideas, John Blanche did some sketches, and then I developed them. I think that Ian Miller threw some ideas in too. Whereas Michael Moorcock's Elric stories were the main source of inspiration for Bryan, I leaned more towards H P Lovecraft. Without knowing what discussions took place when Wagner and Grant took the job on, its impossible to know what the true origins of Malal were. I do recall that Bryan had thoughts about another Chaos god prior to the strip. 

RoC80s: Would you be interested in developing a new range of models inspired by the old Malal designs, much like George Fairlamb has done with the Hooked Horror?

TA: It certainly would be fun to play with the deities of Chaos again!

RoC80s: In your opinion, where do these images sit in regards of copyright?

TA: The copyright one is fun. They way I understand it is that the images are GW copyright, but they can't use them in reference to the name Malal. This shouldn't prove too much of a problem in using them for figure designs. The latter rests on the presentation rule and the fact that they made no sculptural representations of them themselves. The name is copyright to Wagner and Grant so that could be a problem to commercial usage. Gawd knows what the position is to the Chaosium/GW co-productions!

Previously unpublished illustration of a Malal daemon concept. According to Tony, this creature was to be developed into a riding beast. Note insectoid qualities and skull face. Check out the article on Malal's pantheon here.

Old school beastmen. I don't know about you, but I'd love to have some miniatures looking more like these than many of the more generic examples kicking about the wargaming world, wouldn't you?
RoC80s: Being heavily involved in the way early editions of Warhammer 'looked', what can you tell us about the development of the beastmen? Broo inspired or something different?

TA: Back when Games Workshop had a licence from Chaosium to produce figures for Runequest  and I had the job of creating the concepts. Bryan wanted something more radical than those that Chaosium had created. So we added the heads of elephants, crocodiles and some incorporated mixed features. Although Chaosium approved the concepts, I don't recall any of the former two types being produced. When we created warhammer, we did try and incorporate most of the figures Citadel produced in the rules. As chaos became more important, the larger the role that beastmen would play. But at that time there was no distinct plan. So the starting point had been the Broo, which originally had the heads of cattle, but from then on I pretty well ran with my ideas as they came to me. 

Mutations from Realm of Chaos. I am sure that you will recognise many of these but I am sure there are a number here that I haven't seen before. Ideas like these would make a perfect starting point for a conversion pact from Eastern Front! Get on with it Mick Leach!

RoC80s: Making the impossible seem real is a challenge artists have struggled with for centuries. What is the secret of making concept art convincing?

TA: For me a reasonable knowledge of anatomy is a big help. When I say anatomy not only of humans, not only of vertebrates, but most animals forms. And having a good understanding of perspective is essential. Of course, then its using that knowledge to serve your imagination. Individual creatures present their own set of problems. For instance dragons and Green Martians (ERBs Martian Stories) can be a bit of a pain. The original Space Marines were designed by Bob Naismith. In the studio they were referred to as Space Wombles. I must confess that I was never a great fan. It was fine until you put them in an action pose, then it was a case of 'how the bloody hell can they move at all?' Jim Burns and I have agreed how difficult it was to do this when he posted a couple of examples from the Space Crusade box art. I always thought that Kev Walker was the most at home out of us all at depicting them. Of course, when it came to Chaos Marines I had the latitude to take them in my own direction, so that was a pleasure. 

More mutated characters from the Realm of Chaos era.

RoC80s: Marienburg, the unfinished WFRP project, is a very fond memory for many Old School fans of White Dwarf and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. What can you remember of how the project began?

TA: I am not sure of exactly when the first Marienburg stuff was written. Hal (Richard Halliwell) used to come around and visit us quite regularly but I can't remember if he created any new material. I know that Mike Brunton wrote some of them. GW had decided to drop Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay because it didn't promote miniature sales. However, we did get a lot of mail asking when the next scenarios would be published. They also had a lot of unedited manuscripts they had never payed for. The solution GW came up with was to create a small subsidiary to publish them. They could also use it to claw back some tax and prevent three of the more difficult staff from contaminating all the other staff. And hopefully those three would realise by running their own unit that they weren't as clever as they thought they were. We actually became the most productive part of the company. 

Marienburg was a setting created by Richard Halliwell. I can't recall if there were any articles published prior to the setting up of Flame. There was some material written shortly prior to it. As the purpose of Flame was to deal with all things 'roleplay' it became part of our purview. Halliwell continued to produce material but other writers did too. It was all edited by Mike Brunton until he left Flame. 

Remember the scenario inspired by the Maltese Falcon? The main setting was a brothel. Although edited by Mike, he had left when it was due for publication in White Dwarf. Once I pointed out that putting it in White Dwarf might not be the most appropriate place for it. I had the idea that it could be included in a Flame compendium, but we were closed down before that could happen. 

The unused illustration from the 'Maltese Falcon' scenario set in an Old World brothel. Previously unpublished. 
RoC80s: I have heard all kind of tales about Richard Halliwell since beginning these interviews into the glory days of GW. He seems to have had a great deal of influence over a wide range of classic GW games. What was he like to work with?

TA: He was a really good ideas man, but not quite so good at developing those ideas. But during the nineties when he was working on computer games he did improve his skills. Hal was actually fun, he never took things too seriously. He was a little over fond of certain substances, even compared to many of the other staff. But by the time the studio moved to Castle Boulevard those days were over.

Sadly, Hal now suffers from a dementia like complaint. 

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay character illustrations. 
RoC80s: The artwork you produced for the original Warhammer rules, and later WFRP, is extremely varied. How did the studio go about ensuring their was a coherent look to the illustration?

TA: Well, the original Warhammer was written by Richard Halliwell, though he was not a part of the company at that time. It was then edited and expanded by Rick Priestley, with input from Bryan and myself. The visual side was left to me. So apart from some artwork we brought in from John Blanche (who was yet to join the company) I was pretty free to do what I wanted. Bryan, Rick and myself were all keen on history and SF/Fantasy so the images tended to reflect what my interests were. The other factor was to include the look of figures already in production prior to Warhammer. But then again I was also the one producing concepts for those figures. Many of the subjects for WFRP were based on members of staff as capturing the character was more important than an absolute likeness. 

More character illustrations from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Note, the top left footpad illustration was based a chap nicknamed 'Axeman', who was a regular around the GW scene in the early to mid '80s. 

All that is left for me to say is THANK YOU once again to Tony. I hoped you enjoyed this little wander into history. Look out for more of Tony's more recent work for Eastern Front on these pages as soon as its ready. Fingers crossed that we are soon pushing some of his designs around a table or two worldwide. 



  1. Cool! Any chance we still get to see that Maltese Falcon scenario? Huge fan of classic film noirs, and still active with WFRP here! :P

    1. Extremely unlikely. All the manuscripts went from Flame to Hogshead to...? This particular scenario us lost in the warp forever unfortunately!

    2. You should ask James Wallis (from the original Hogsead company) he may give you some hints regarding those manuscripts

  2. Hell yes, to the conversion pack idea! Another great article, stuffed with glorious artwork. Thanks.

  3. I really would like to see Malal , and the indepdant demons back while a whole range of minis , wow!

  4. Fantastic interview. I could read thoughts like this for hours - thanks for sharing the art and pictures Tony!

  5. I think you might be mistaken about the first illo, coz I have it my Lost and the Damned 97.

    1. Thanks for the heads up. Caption updated.

  6. I just adore the whole art direction and atmospherics of the original WFRP (it just seems 'more real' somehow); so this was a most informative interview. Thanks!

  7. What a great post. Thank you very much!!

  8. His drawings to me show chaos how chaos should be, disturbing, unatural and chaotic, not lame skull bad guys as how it is normally done now.