Friday, June 17, 2016

Miniature Photography the Oldenhammer Way

In the last couple months I've gotten a couple questions about how I take pictures of my miniatures. For me, learning about miniature photography has been one of the best things about starting this website and participating in our hobby's online community.  In my view, shooting miniatures is as creative an act as painting miniatures, with some hobbyists transforming it into a veritable art form. Some of my favourites include:

I -- of course -- have a different approach to any of these gentlemen...

And I guess that's the first part of miniature photography: you have to decide what you mean to accomplish. Although I experimented early on with photos that place my miniatures in the context of the games, I realized that what I really wanted was a clean, distinctive and uncluttered look for my photos. I wanted something that mirrored a clean, distinctive and uncluttered blog. My aim is to make the miniature (and the paint job) as "readable" as possible. In this sense, I'm similar (if inferior) to artists like Stro'knor at Quindias Studios or Jinnai at the Realm of Jinnai. Like them, I focus my photography on the miniature itself, not on the flavour of the underlying game.

The Ghoul (1985) from the Talisman Range, sculpted by Aly Morrison

Well, enough about philosophy - let's discuss practicalities. The number one requirement for miniature photography isn't the camera, or the background. You need light. Lots and lots of light. Natural light (outdoors on a slightly overcast day) can produced marvelous effect. I still remember a magic day when I took a series of photos in my backyard of my Wild West town. However, because I wanted more consistency and reliability in my photos, I ultimately opted for indoor photography using a light box. I won't dwell too long on this topic because I've already written about the Foldio Light Box that I use for my shots. Almost 2 years on, I'm still happy with it, although I'm looking forward to the arrival of the new (and larger) model, which will help me take photos of bigger units and "360 degree images".

I also use a Flotone Blue Jay graduated photographic background on all my shots. These backgrounds are huge, poster sized sheets, so obviously you have to cut them up to fit inside your light box. I've also written about this fantastic product, and I will just emphasize that it's incredible how the colour of the background alters the appearance of the miniature. If my miniatures seem brightly coloured (or if they seem to have a strong cel-shaded look), I think at least part of the praise/blame can be laid at the feet of all my lights working in conjunction with the Flotone.

I don't own a camera. All I've ever used is my Samsung Galaxy s. 4 smartphone. So I don't think an expensive camera is necessary. But I have given a terrible amount of time to thinking about tripods, experimenting with half-a-dozen before settling on this cheap tripod and bluetooth shutter control purchased on eBay. The tripod is all important because the position of your camera changes the perception of your miniature.

I like very close shots, which Smartphones pull off with alarming ability. Usually, only about 1-3 inches separate the miniature from the lens. The positive side of close-ups is that you attain a very high resolution to your images. This captures a lot of detail on the figure, right down to individual brush strokes. But there are several downsides: very small flaws in the painting a glaringly obvious. Even specks of dust that are invisible to the naked eye flare on the miniature like stars emerging from the evening sky. And finally, when your lens is that close to the miniature, you have an extremely narrow depth of field (i.e. you have a narrow band where things will be in focus). This means that if a particular miniature is throwing one hand behind him, that hand may not be as sharply in focus as the miniature's face because of the difference in their distance from the lens.

Of course, sometimes a narrow depth of field can produce dramatic effects, like in this photo of my orc baggage train:

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to position the camera. If you want your miniature to look like it will on the gaming table, it's best to shoot them from a higher angle, since this is how the players see them. Personally, I want the viewers to see my miniatures as I see them while I paint them, so I shoot them at a low angle. I also think this adds a sense of life to the miniature, since this is the perspective at which we all view each other in the real world.

For some miniatures, I angle the camera almost below level to make them seem more threatening or heroic, like this shot of Han Solo:

And then there is post-production. In order to achieve a clean, uniform look, I generally crop my photos to a 3x5 ratio. For many shots, I use Photoshop's Photomerge Panorama function to give both the front and back of a miniature in one frame -- this is part of my quest for a highly readable image that other hobbyists can use as a reference tool for their own work. (It took dozens and dozens of hours to create these duplex images when I assembled my galleries of all the Talisman miniatures, so I hope you lot appreciated it!)

For the sake of maintaining a high resolution, it's generally a good idea to let the miniature fill as much of the image as possible. Sometimes however, it can be fun to play with composition. Every once in a while, I enjoy expanding the negative space in the frame in order to accentuate the silhouette of a particularly dynamic miniature. For example, here's Han again, spinning to shoot at someone that the viewer can't see: 

So that's how Oldhammer in Toronto does it. Please share your own photo tips, or feel free to ask any questions in the comments. Cheers! 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Cloud City Blues

Here are all the painted miniatures from The Bespin Gambit boxed set, the latest expansion for Star Wars Imperial Assault: we have the heroes Davith Elso and Murne Rin, plus the Bespin Wing Guard and Ugnaughts. Last week, I posted pictures of all the associated Hero and Villain Packs, like Lando Calrissian

Between Lando, Davith, Murne, the Wing Guard and even the Ugnaughts, there are so many variations of blue. I hope it creates a sense of unity for the Bespin miniatures.

On first glance, I wasn't enthused about Murne Rin. She is supposed to be a diplomat of the Ithorian race. The original miniature, however, is an ugly mess of contradictions. Is she an action hero wearing a frilly prom dress? An ambassador brandishing a firearm? I decided to clean up the miniature with a few quick alterations. I cut away her over-sized wizard's staff, and substituted a simple rod of office. Then I ditched her blaster and replaced it with a gesturing hand -- after all, in Imperial Assault Murne's abilities are all about her diplomatic powers, not her sharpshooting. Although her frock is still a little ridiculous, now I'm much happier with the miniature. 

Painted Davith Elso, FFG Imperial Assault (2016)
Davith Elso

Davith Elso is a much better designed miniature -- this young Jedi's crouching pose carries tremendous action and personality. It also telegraphs his in-game abilities based on concealment and stealth. I think this is one of the best original sculpts that Imperial Assault has produced. I'm looking forward to seeing how he plays in the game.

I'm a little confused by the Ugnaughts. I'm glad that these little blighters have been included in Bespin because they're a key part of the Bespin vibe. I painted my regular Ugnaughts in the same colour scheme as the old Kenner action figures -- it's my conservative nature.

But I find these Oompa-Loompas aggravating because their main in-game power consists of creating "junk droids" that can be used as distracting fodder. Good and well -- but why is there no miniature for the junk droid? There's a little cardboard marker in the box... but only one, even though there are three Ugnaughts. It feels slapdash.

Painted Ugnaught Miniature, FFG Imperial Assault (2016)
Regular Ugnaught

Painted Ugnaught Elite, FFG Imperial Assault (2016)
Elite Ugnaught

I decided to make my own Junk Droid, using some of the robots from the old range of Galacta miniatures originally sculpted by Heritage Miniatures in the late 1970's and currently produced by Classic Miniatures. I love Galacta and am looking forward to painting more of the models when I get some time. They were an early knock-off of Star Wars, so it's only appropriate to enlist them for Imperial Assault. 

My junk droid is a Security Bot from the "Galactic Rebellion" paint-and-play boxed set.

Junk Droid Miniature for Imperial Assault
A Junk Droid with mild dermatitis

Before there was 40K, there was GALACTA!

Finally, there's the Bespin Wing Guard. Like the Ugnaughts, they are well-sculpted and detailed, and will certainly help to create the atmosphere of Cloud City. I like their understated uniforms, with the gold piping and the red cuffs. Sometimes simple is best -- they were fun and easy to paint.

Painted Bespin Wing Guard Miniatures, FFG Imperial Assault (2016)
Bespin Wing Guard Regulars
Bespin Wing Guard Elite
Elite Bespin Wing Guard

Well, if you want more Imperial Assault, check out these galleries of the complete painted miniatures for...  

The Rebels...
The Imperials...
And the Mercenaries.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Painted Star Wars Miniatures - The Bespin Gambit

Behold painted miniatures of Lando Calrissian, Bossk, Agent Blaise and the ISB Infiltrators. They come from the Ally and Villain packs that were released in conjunction with The Bespin Gambit, the latest expansion for Star Wars Imperial Assault.

"You look absolutely beautiful."
Props to Gary Storkamp, the sculptor of Lando Calrissian. Rather than modernizing Lando, he's preserved several key features of Billy Dean William's character that are thoroughly dated to the 1980's: his high waist, his pirate shirt, and especially his magnificent Jheri Curls

But when it came to painting Lando, I had my own challenges. One was to capture the baby blue of his blouse, or the soft caramel of his skin tone. But the most important element of Calrissian's appearance is the lining of his cape. This gold/green paisley is what gives Lando his flare and style. Without capturing the lining, this miniature would be a nullity. So I worked hard to create the impression, if not the replica, of this complex pattern.

Lando Calrissian, FFG Imperial Assault (sculpted by G. Storkamp, 2016)

The sculptors of Imperial Assault have been methodically ticking off all the staple poses of the villain. We have the Evil Pointing, the Sinister Hand Clasp, and the Karate Chop. Thankfully, we now have Agent Blaise with a classic Fist Shake. Nothing says, "I'll get you one day, you stupid heroes!" more eloquently than vibrating your fist in the air. And we know that Agent Blaise is an old pro, because he knows to take off his helmet before trying this maneuver. How else will the Rebels know that you're grimacing?

Agent Blaise, FFG Imperial Assault (sculpted by D. Ferreira, 2016)

I've given Agent Blaise a little grey at the temples. I'm pretty sure that only an age-addled person would opt for a fist shake, rather than using the large sniper rifle he's holding in his other hand.

ISB Infiltrators

Thankfully, Old Man Blaise is accompanied by the ISB InfiltratorsSince the ISB (Imperial Security Bureau) is the Gestapo of the Empire, I tried to make these troopers as Aryan as possible. But it was not clear from Fantasy Flight Game's card art whether these miniatures are supposed to be wearing actual purple armour, or whether they're in the standard whites of the Stormtrooper that's been artistically tinted by dim light. I decided to go for a purple-blue armour -- it seems better suited to their covert operations -- and marks them out as special badasses.

ISB Infiltrators, FFG Imperial Assault (sculpted by D. Ferreira, 2016)

But because I like hedging my bets, I couldn't help myself from kit-bashing some ISB variants. Using Scout Trooper heads and backpacks from some old WotC miniatures, I created a couple elite Infiltrators with traditional white armour and helmets. They're in perfect camouflage for a commando raid on a chessboard or zebra sanctuary!

These scouts join some of my other conversions, like the Mon Calamari Saboteurs, the Aqualish Hired Guns and the Gran Rebel Smuggler.

ISB Infiltrators (conversion), FFG Imperial Assault (sculpted by D. Ferreira, 2016)

Finally, there's Bossk. I loved painting this cold-blooded bounty hunter. His palate (yellow, yellow-green and white) is as simple as a flag but completely arresting. He's a perfect encapsulation of the Star Wars aesthetic: simplicity and strangeness in equal parts. But the thing that gives me most pleasure is that sculptor Gary Storkamp resisted the temptation to make Bossk look like he's growling. Instead, he's maintained the disquieting reptilian smile that marked out Bossk during his cameo in The Empire Strikes Back.

Bossk, FFG Imperial Assault (sculpted by G. Storkamp, 2016)

Stay tuned for pictures of the rest of the miniatures from The Bespin Gambit in the next few days! And if you've painted any of these miniatures, please let me know in the comments.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Painted Scenery for Star Wars Imperial Assault

I've just painted over 100 pieces of scenery for Star Wars Imperial Assault. And I'm tired. CombatZone Scenery, a company in the UK, produces a beautiful line of terrain tailored for the game. Rendered in heavy casting plaster, the pieces reproduce the 2-dimensional features printed on the map-tiles, as well as other items like control consoles and supply crates.

Terrain is central to achieving an authentic Star Wars feel...  what is Tatooine without the lonely moisture vaporators, or a Rebel base without glowing tactical screens?  So I'm happy that there's a way of bringing these places to life in 3 dimensions. The only problem is the cost in money and time. Buying and shipping all this terrain cost me almost $250 Canadian -- and then it was about 7 weeks of intense painting. That's a long time to spend painting crates and snowbanks.

But, in the end, it's worth it. One of my recurring themes is that Imperial Assault is a game that straddles a borderland between board games and proper war-games. A key difference between these two categories is a board game is ready to play out of the box, but a war-game only becomes playable after a long labour of love: collecting the miniatures, imagining the armies, customizing the models, assembling the terrain, planning, painting and presenting.

I've always wanted a proper Star Wars war-game -- one with broad horizons for the hobbyist in me. I suppose Fantasy Flight Games made their game a little bit too structured and a little bit too easy for my tastes. Well, screw them. I'll keep on finding new ways to make Imperial Assault costly and time-consuming.

Thanks for looking. And don't forget: if you like Imperial Assault, I have galleries of the complete painted miniatures for the Rebels, Imperials and Mercenaries.