Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Blue Yonder: a review of the Flotone graduated photography background

I'm not saying that you have to have an obsessive streak if you're going to paint miniatures, but it certainly helps. My latest obsession has been improving my miniature photography, as evinced by my recent purchase of a Foldio Light box. But even then I wasn't happy because the strong light I used to illuminate the figurines' fine detail was now washing away the colours in the paint. It reminds me of the Zen proverb, medicine cures the disease, but what cures the medicine? And so I decided to invest in a professional grade photographic backdrop. 

I'm glad I did. Here's one of my first photos with this background:

By way of contrast, below is the same miniature, taken with the same lighting, but using the white foam backdrop that was included in the Foldio:

The difference is astounding.  The blue background makes the entire miniature seem warmer and more vibrant. This is especially true for the orange flesh-tones -- through the magic of complementary colours, the blue lends them a lifelike glow. The graduated effect is also important. It gives the miniature a sense of being suspended in space. Finally, I think the deepening blue draws the eye upwards and into the faces of the miniatures. (Incidentally, the Yalta miniature is one of the Moments in History Vignettes offered by that excellent organ of our hobby, Wargames Illustrated.)

The backdrop that I'm using is the Flotone Graduated Background - 31" x 43" in Blue Jay colour. I bought it for $33.50 from B&H Photo Video in NYC (+$18 in shipping and duties to Canada). B&H was a fast and pleasant retailer. The Flotone itself is a heavy PVC material with a matte finish, making it sturdy and attractive.  In order to adapt it to the dimensions of my lightbox, I cut the massive Flotone into a number of smaller sheets.

Cutting up the Flotone was a handy thing to do since it allowed me to customize a number of continuums (continua?) of gradation from blue to white. This will be useful because I don't want too intense a blue behind miniatures that are themselves blue, for fear that the background will drown them out.

My only complaint about the Flotone is that it scuffs very easily. After taking a number of photos with it, its surface was marred by smudges from my miniature bases (as seen in the photo of this Mimic). These marks are easy to wipe away with a damp, soapy cloth, but the process of washing is a pain in the ass in the middle of a photography session. 

In sum, the Flotone Graduated backdrop is a fine product and a benefit to my photography. I now think of my backgrounds like I used to think of the base of the miniature -- a precious opportunity to highlight the figure itself.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Naval Combat in Oldhammer: "All the Nice Dwarves Luv a Sailor"

Ship to ship combat -- with boarding parties, grapples and rams -- is the one thing missing from old school Warhammer Fantasy Battle. Or so I thought... until yesterday. I was flipping through an old White Dwarf, and stumbled on a short but pithy article by Gary Chalk. Mr. Chalk  is best known as an illustrator (creating the iconic drawings for Talisman and Lone Wolf), but he's also a modeler and a game designer extraordinaire.

His talents in all these respects are on full display in his article on naval combat. Even the title, "All the Nice Dwarfs Luv a Sailor" is the sort of goofy cultural reference that made vintage Warhammer so much fun. The rules themselves are a miracle of economy. There's little (i.e. no) emphasis on army points, or balanced rules. Instead, there are simple guidelines for bringing the ships together in a great smash and fighting infantry melees on the decks of each ship. It reminds me a little of how the Romans won the First Punic War: fight sea battles like they're actually land battles by rushing on to your opponents ship and throwing some stick around.

Naturally, "All the Nice Dwarfs Luv a Sailor" embodies the do-it-yourself ethos of the true hobbyist. It contains a useful template for constructing your own ships for 28mm miniatures, and tips for including such features as a winch-suspended cage of warriors that is to be swung over an opponent's ship and emptied on to the deck.The whole article is clearly designed to get miniatures on the table in the most chaotic and colourful way possible.

I'm hoping to get a couple of these scratch-built vessels for my own table - I may be ambitious and try to replicate (and scale-up) an elven ship from that great game, Man O'War. I'll keep the blog updated with my progress. 

Citadel Elven Ships for Man O'War (1992)

As I did a little research on these naval rules, I ran across the interview Gary Chalk did with the BBC journalist Samira Ahmed in 2012. It's clear that Mr. Chalk also pines for the days when Games Workshop emphasized creativity and freedom, rather than a rigid codex of rules: "People used to invent things -- E.g. dwarf hang-gliders and hot air balloons and invent rules to use them in the game. I came up with naval ships -- we called the game 'All the Nice Dwarfs Love a Sailor': -- they were fun add ons." He's not so keen on the current state of the hobby, summing up modern Warhammer in three words, "It's all pain."

For those who don't have access to White Dwarf 83, the best scan (much better than my own attempt) is found at the most excellent website of Project Aon, which is dedicated to the Lone Wolf books that Mr. Chalk illustrated. The pdf is here, and "All the Dwarfs Luv" starts at page 104. Let's hope Gary's great article continues to inspire a few more orcish Trafalgars!


It’s all pain.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Foldio Light Box Review: Charge of the Light Brigade

This photo of two Oldhammer Dwarfs comes courtesy of my new Foldio Light Box from Orange Monkie.

When you photograph 28mm miniatures, everything depends on lighting. If you wish to expose the miniature's undercarriage, bring out the colours and capture detail, you will need theological quantities of light. With enough illumination, even the camera in a smartphone can take satisfying pictures (I use a Samsung Galaxy s4 and have always been pleased with its performance). But without light, even the best mini becomes a dingy turd.

When I first started this blog, I took my photos outdoors, in the shade of a sunny day (see the above Meazels from Otherworld Miniatures for an example). The results were tolerable, but there was a lot of inconvenience: the wind kept knocking over my backdrop, the lighting changed with the cloud cover, and there was an ever present danger of fresh air getting into my lungs. The obvious solution was a light box, either bought from eBay or made at home. Light boxes provide the dual benefit of concentrating light indoors while creating a smooth background for the mini. After reading some helpful advice, I decided to purchase the Foldio portable light box. 

I was attracted to the Foldio because it came with its own backdrops and a compact system of lighting, using lightweight LCD strips shining at the frequency of daylight. I also liked the fact that it packs up into a small, flat packet for easy storage.

There is a lot to like about the Foldio. It arrived at my door (to Canada from Korea) in just two days after ordering. As promised, it takes only seconds to set up, and creates a crisp environment for pictures. The lights are powered by 9-volt batteries, which means there aren't a lot of cables cluttering up the table. In sum, the Foldio is simple, easy and tidy. A picture of the same Meazels from my Foldio shows dramatic improvement: 

But the Foldio has limitations. It is small (10 inches across), so it's a poor solution for large dioramas or vehicles. Additionally, the coloured backdrop (which can be changed to your taste) is fastened to the inside of the Foldio by little more than goodwill. And the battery connectors for the light strips seem fragile, especially if 9-volts are repeatedly being inserted and detached. But the greatest drawback of the Foldio is that, as sold, it doesn't provide nearly enough light for 28mm miniatures, which leads to a lot of hidden costs. 

The basic Foldio is $49. I opted for the souped-up version ($59) with 2 LCD strips (both glued to the top of the light box). But with these two strips alone, this is the first picture I took of the Orc from Citadel's Talisman range:

In order to fully illuminate my miniatures, I needed to purchase three more LCD strips from Orange Monkie. I then jury-rigged stands for them so they could provide light for the flanks and bottom of the Foldio. (These stands are constructed with common hobby supplies: balsa wood, weighted down with heavy washers. I fasten the batteries to the back of the stands by way of a fridge magnet glued to the wood). 

When you add these extra light strips, plus a substantial amount of duties and shipping (not to mention batteries), my Foldio system has ballooned to almost $200. A do-it-yourself light box would have been vastly cheaper. On the other hand, the Foldio is convenient and elegant. Oh well. Light, like other precious commodities, can be surprisingly expensive.

Now That's an Orc!
Fully illuminated in a Foldio with 5 light strips