Friday, January 8, 2021

Animated Zen Koans

I've had a lot of time off since Christmas but my miniature painting mojo has vanished. I think it's a combination of Covid fatigue, winter blahs and insurrection-induced anxiety. I might also be tired after finishing a series of painting projects (like the 40K mercs). But I still needed an outlet for my creative urges, so I turned to a enterprise I've been flirting with for a long time: taking some of the ancient stories about Zen Buddhism and animating them into one-minute movies using cartoon bunnies and computer-generated voices.

I guess there's a time in every man's life when he says to himself, "I want to take some of the ancient stories about Zen Buddhism and animate them into one-minute movies using cartoon bunnies and computer-generated voices." And for me, that time is now.

The source material comes from The Blue Cliff Record, which is a 1000-year-old collection of dialogues spoken by Zen Masters from Tang Dynasty China. These dialogues are often called cases or koans. A "koan" is a Japanese transliteration of the Chinese word gōngàn, which meant "a decision of a judge." In each of these stories, a Zen Master pronounces a judgment about the nature of enlightenment. But in trying to describe the highest truths of Zen, these monks often relied on non-sequiturs, one-liners and radical understatement.

In order to animate this deadpan absurdity, I needed equally deadpan characters -- hence the robotic voices and big-headed puppies. Above is my rendition of the first case from The Blue Cliff Record, where the mythic founder of Zen has an awkward conversation with the Emperor. The next one I did was the 28th Case, where two Zen Masters talk about the importance of not talking about anything important:

Finally, I illustrated one of my favourite stories, the 74th Case, where a series of Zen Masters give unhelpful advice about gratitude, happiness and generosity.

I don't know if anyone will enjoy watching the movies half as much as I enjoyed making them. But I wanted to share them in case they might be some help in dispelling your own winter blahs.

Take care, everyone!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Merry Mercmas!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everyone! Reconnecting with the miniature painting community in the last few weeks has been medicine for me. So thanks for all the greetings and encouragements. I truly enjoy each comment all of you leave behind when you come to visit. I hope you are all staying safe and finding ways to make the most out of this wounded holiday season.

I want to end 2020 on a high note, so here's one of my favourite Citadel miniatures of all time: the Warhammer 40K mercenary "Old World Jack." His grim expression of dread and his lively sense of movement make a compelling contrast. Plus his armour is an early ancestor of the beaky space marine armour that discloses how influential 2000 AD was on Citadel's visual style: those boots and knee-pads are right out of Judge Dredd:

Next is "Catachan Luke." He's named after the jungle planet Catachan, which is mentioned in the Rogue Trader rulebook as the deadliest of hostile "death worlds". But if Catachan is a mythic version of Vietnam, Luke is clearly patterned off a US infantryman, complete with an M16:

I don't know about you, but if I was going to spend my hard-earned money on a heavily armed mercenary, I would not hire a man who goes by the name "Spaced-Dout Sam." Jesus, Sam -- pull yourself together.

And finally we have "Mad Morris." Like many of the RT7 mercenaries, this model lived a double life as an Imperial Guardsman. But that, of course, is quite appropriate, since it is easy to imagine many of the more sociopathic Guardsmen deserting the service, repainting their equipment, and taking up life as a gun-for-hire:

Thanks for coming with me on this tour of the Rogue Trader mercenaries. In case you missed the earlier episodes, here are the first, second and third posts I wrote about the RT7 range of miniatures.

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I will leave you with one final piece of great personal news. Mrs. Oldhammer-in-Toronto and I adopted a retired racing greyhound. We had been thinking of getting a pooch for many months. She wanted a medium-sized dog and I wanted a small dog, so we compromised and got an extremely large dog. Seriously - he is so big, when he lays down (which is most of time time) he looks like there's a dead deer lying around my house. "Utopia" came to us from the racetrack on Wheeling Island, West Virginia, via the extremely caring and professional foster care at Gillian's Greyhound Adoption

I can assure my reading public that his is a very good boy.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Mo' Mercenaries for Warhammer 40K

Any student of history knows that mercenaries were an indispensable part of life in the ancient world. We see them in every force from Carthage's elite infantry to William the Conqueror's Flemish allies. Speaking of the Flemish... There's a marvelous legend that when Duke Baldwin of Flanders asked what compensation he could expect for helping William's invasion of England, William handed him a blank sheet of parchment. This seems to be the first example of payment by a blank cheque.

If not always completely reliable, ancient mercenaries were at least esteemed as necessary professionals. But after the modern nation state began to emerge out of the mercenary-infested wreckage of the Thirty Years War, renting soldiers fell out of fashion. In the late 20th century, mercenaries attracted a downright dishonorable reputation because of their role in vile bush wars and civil conflicts. If anything, the corporatization of mercenary work in the modern Middle East has only sunk their standing further.

The Rogue Trader minis that I've been profiling in my last couple posts reflect the idea of mercenaries that was current in the 1980's: these are decommissioned army men looking for a buck or poorly-organized irregulars. More like the Crippled Eagles of Rhodesia than Blackwater's shiny private army in Iraq.

Well, let's have at 'em. First up is "World Burner." I have always been a little entranced by this figure. He's armed only with an auto-pistol and a gas mask -- and yet his faceless glare (and sinister name) make him seem like a terrifying opponent:

Next is "Break Out Con." I feel like if I were an escaped convict, I wouldn't advertise that fact by making it a nickname. But then, of course, I don't have a fully loaded bolter. When you've got a bolter, they call you anything you want.

Here is "Hacker Harris." He and Break Out Con are a classic example of the Citadel Design Studio's modular technique, where the same basic sculpt is reconfigured to create two or more miniatures. First and foremost, this was a way of producing more miniatures in a shorter period of time, and it helps explain the Studio's ability to crank out so many different miniatures in such a short period of time (that and the drugs). But the modular technique has other benefits. It implants a pleasing sense of pattern in Citadel's miniature ranges.

And finally, here's "Fast-Star John"...

Fast-Star John appears to be a modular variation of World Burner. Both seem to be wearing a modified (and dyed) set of traditional Imperial Guard flak armour. Hence the sense that these fellows are decommissioned veterans or perhaps deserts. He also seems to be carrying an M16. Just the thing you want for your Bush War... in space.

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

More Rogue Trader Era Mercenaries

Citadel's RT7 line of Mercenaries from 1987 represent a long-dead vision of Warhammer 40K. With their medley of attire, weaponry and species, they hearken to 40K as a messy skirmish game that prioritized narratives and role-playing. Like other early lines that died out (the Space Pirates or the Adventurers), the mercs have no place in the tidy world of race-based factions and army lists that became the norm as 40K pivoted towards competitive tournament play.  

As I painted the mercenaries, I kept thinking of how they may not fit into 40K as a game, but they do match 40K as portrayed in fiction, especially the excellent novels of Dan Abnett. Even Abnett's frequent references to "bodygloves" (i.e. protective wet-suits worn under coats or heavier armour) seem to be prefigured in mercenaries like "Plunderino Pete" and "Sarge Rockhard."

And speaking of Sarge, here he is:

The next fella I painted was the somewhat unimaginatively named "Shorty". I believe this abhuman ratling is the first and last Warhammer 40K miniature to be sculpted with a smile:

Here is "No-Face Fargo." I spent 10 minutes staring into space trying to think of something witty to say about a miniature named "No-Face Fargo," but I drew a blank.

Finally, here is "Abaddon." Well, at least here is the first miniature to be called "Abaddon." Later, this name would be reallocated to Abaddon the Despoiler, "the greatest Champion of Chaos Undivided in the galaxy" and the "scourge of the Black Crusade that divided the Imperium and ushered in the eternal night." But in 1987, Abaddon was just a guy who decided to show up for garrison duty wearing a bright green envirosuit:

I hope you are all safe and healthy. Thanks for looking and I'll be back soon! 

Monday, November 16, 2020

Rogue Trader Mercenaries from 1987

The moment of my death, a snow-globe will roll out of my nerveless hands and a few whispered words will fall unheeded from my lips... Irn Bonce... the Squat...

It all goes back to late 1987, when my older brother brought home White Dwarf #95. This was the apex issue of the magazine. Among so many other things, it introduced us to The Fury of Dracula, Ruglud's Armourd Orcs, the 3rd edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, the Deodorant Hover Tank, Prince Ulther's Imperial Dwarfs, and a flexi-disk recording of Sabbat's love-ballad Blood for the Blood God. But among all these wonders, my eye was glued to one thing only: the Mercenaries sculpted by Bob Naismith and the Perry Twins for Warhammer 40K Rogue Trader.

For the 12-year-old me, these 16 minis lay at the summit of desire. My brother and I managed to collect most of them and we played hundreds of games with them. But, of course, as we aged, we grew neglectful of our treasures and I gave or traded them away by the time I left for university.

A few years ago, driven by the demon of nostalgia, I managed to reconstruct a complete set of the RT7 Mercenaries. But it took me another few years to build up the courage to paint them. These minis occupy such a large part of my imagination, I couldn't quite bring myself to touch them.

Anyway, in the past few weeks, I finally screwed myself (??) to the sticking place. In tribute to my memories, I didn't depart from the colour schemes set out in the White Dwarf. 

Here are the first four I painted, starting with "Kylla Condotti" (who originally appeared in early 1987 as "The Imperial Garrison Trooper"). I love the apprehensive look on his face. It seems to say, "Why is everyone else wearing armour?"

"Inquisitor Augustus" is the only mercenary I didn't paint this autumn. I finished his bad buck-toothed self around 2015. As far as I can tell, my painting technique hasn't changed much in that time, and he fits right in with his brothers:

"Plunderino Pete" is the victim of a typo. It's clear from later ads that his true name is "Plundering Pete." But Plunderino always seemed more romantic to me, as if Pete came from an unfortunately named Italian village:

"Irn Bonce the Squat" is my favourite in the RT7 range of Mercenaries. I love his power-armour, his unusual grenade launcher, and his visored helm. But I've never quite understood his name (is it a reference to Irn-Bru?) or why he has an "M" emblazoned on his forehead:

Thanks for stopping by - and stay tuned for more mercs!

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Star Wars Bounty Hunter Miniatures

Can you break up with someone who has just died? I think of this Seinfeldian question when I contemplate Star Wars Imperial Assault.

In the beginning, I went deep for the Imperial Assault miniatures. We went for long walks and took cooking classes together. But gradually I began to feel trapped. As the game lost vitality, languished and fell into a coma, I knew my love was dying too. When Fantasy Flight Games announced there would be no new minis for the game, I hit my limit. As the hearse carted the game away, I stood in the driveway shouting, "And don't come back!"

I had just one regret. I always wanted to possess the iconic roster of six bounty hunters from The Empire Strikes Back. Imperial Assault gave us splendid renditions of Boba Fett, Dengar, IG-88 and Bossk. But it croaked before it could bequeath the final two: Zuckuss and 4-LOM.

Thankfully there are other ways to get 28mm Star Wars miniatures. For instance, there is that wretched hive of scum and villainy, the 3D printing service Shapeways. I turned to the excellent designer Mel Miniatureswhose catalog fills the gaps left by the more orthodox gaming companies. Here's the Zuckuss that I bought from them:

And here's the assassin droid 4-LOM.

Once I entered the world of off-brand Star Wars miniatures, I didn't want to stop. If it was wrong to cheat on Fantasy Flight Games, I didn't want to be right.

But 3D printing through Shapeways is expensive. Twenty-five dollars a figure turns miniature painting from a hobby to a vice. So I turned to the pre-painted Star Wars miniatures produced by Wizards of the Coast between 2004-2010. They often sell for a dollar or two, and there are hundreds of choices. Of course, this line of miniatures has some problems: the plastic is soft and doesn't capture fine detail. But the shoddy factory colouring makes the sculps seem worse than they really are. A decent paint job at home will hide a many sins.

To illustrate my point, here's my slightly converted rendition of Boushh, the bounty hunter who Leia impersonated in The Return of the Jedi:

And here's the Wookie bounty hunter Black Krrsantan, whose well known to anyone whose dabbled in the recent wealth of Star Wars comics:

Stay tuned for more off-brand Star Wars minis in future posts...

Stay safe my friends!

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Oldenhammer: the missing years

Especially attentive readers of Oldenhammer-in-Toronto may have noticed a two year hiatus where I failed to publish any new posts. I also stopped commenting on other Oldhammer blogs and my painting output dropped to fraction of what it normally is. (You can see one of the miniatures I did manage to finish in the picture above: the druid Ferndale Snart from 1985). My absence from the hobby wasn't a result of losing interest, losing a job, finding a job, finding God, moving house, or having a baby.

I had to suspend blogging because I was writing a book. I started it a long time ago but spent years just tinkering and dithering. Only since 2017 did I finally buckle down, and  - as I did - I found that writing began to dominate more and more of my time. Finally, there was room for almost nothing else. The only way I was going to finish this bastard was by putting everything else aside.

Xuedou, the man who compiled
The Blue Cliff Record
The book treats an unusual topic: it's a commentary on one of the classic works of Zen Buddhism, The Blue Cliff Record. This wonderful medieval text is a collection of 100 stories about the teachers who founded the Zen school in China during the Tang dynasty.

I've studied with a Zen Master since 2004 and was ordained myself as a Zen Master (or meditation teacher) five years ago. One of the things that drew me to Zen in the first place was The Blue Cliff Record, which is, by turns, baffling, enlightening and hilarious. I wanted to write a book to help other readers enjoy The Record as much as I do.

I'm also proud to say there is an important connection between my book and our hobby: while I was still writing it, Zhu Bajiee drew six amazing illustrations for me. These pictures really inspired me during a particularly difficult period in the creative process. (You can see an excellent example of Zhu's recent work in this art for Crooked Dice Miniatures). I'm still unsure whether my publisher will include Zhu's illustrations in the printed edition of my book, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed. 

I'll have more to say about my book when it gets closer to the publication date, which is tentatively set for July 2021.

In the meantime, for those of you intrigued by Zen, I'll leave you with three videos that I recently posted on Youtube for my meditation students. The videos deal with how to use mindfulness to help cope with Covid-19. If you are feeling stress, self-doubt or anxiety, I hope you will check them out.

Sharp-eyed viewers may notice the stack of Osprey military histories on the bookshelfThere's a little miniature gaming everywhere in my house, even the meditation room!