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The Life of P

Tag: miniatures

Space Hulk

I still have a battered copy of the second edition of Space Hulk, a £40 big box boardgame from the 1990s that now sells on ebay for around £200. Set in the grimdark sci-fi universe of Warhammer 40,000, the game is unfolds aboard huge spacecraft adrift in the depths of space as hulking power-armoured Space Marine Terminators fight off packs of ravenous aliens in tight corridors. The game draws heavily from the Alien franchise — this included the Genestealer design inspired by H.R. Giger’s iconic xenomorph as well as the tension-elevating mechanic of using of “blip” tokens to represent swarming dots on a radar screen. Although the box contains 20 Genestealer models, they are only placed on the board when within line of sight of the Terminators. Until then the tactical decisions must be made based on unknown numbers at each blip. I do love asymmetric knowledge at the game table.

When I collected the box from my parents’ house, I found some of my early attempts at miniature painting inside, probably circa 1998. In this post, I put them side by side with new examples of identical models from the box. Let’s (hopefully) see some progress.

My original attempt was actually pretty faithful to the box art, with the bright red armour of the Blood Angels chapter. With the new Blood Angel and Ultramarine I felt free to experiment, particularly as they did not need to fit in with a larger army. These older models are also a good example of my previous comments that less detail can allow greater creative interpretation. I wanted to produce much richer armour, which I built up through multiple layers of different contrast paints — successive layers were darker but increasingly watered down, and the topmost layer was mixed with a wash to change the flow properties to gather more in the recesses. The result of that layering is a pearlescent finish to their ceramite armour plates, most visible on the Ultramarine’s blue shoulder in contrast to the matte black of the Blood Angel. The lighter helmets draw attention to the faces (initially a happy accident as the red armour became a darker hue than initially intended, so I avoided the face with the final coat) as do the glowing eyes. The glazed red on the Ultramarine is more obvious but I prefer subtler object source lighting on the Blood Angel, the green just catching the raised edges of the cheeks. As a photographer, OSL is definitely something I am interested in exploring more.

Interestingly, there is no gold paint used on any of these models. The aquila on the 90s paint job is a yellow not even trying to mimic gold. The gold details on the new models have been underpainted in silver then layered with a translucent yellow and then darker washes. This approach allowed for very different tones to the warm gold of the Blood Angel (with a red brown wash) and the colder tone of the Ultramarine (using a wash of brown and blue). The plain black bases are because they are going to be replaced entirely with new ship corridor bases in the future.
Work in Progress: Terminator arms
There was failed experimentation along the way. Initially I had intended to use non-metallic skulls and a black aquila on the chest in the style of newer Blood Angels imagery. However, with the darker armour the black aquila just did not work, looking unfinished, so I abandoned it in favour of the more classic gold. That in turn made the aged bone colour of the shoulder honour badge and other skull motifs feel too weak, so I reworked them in a more stylised gold and bleached bone. Since that proved successful, the same approach was incorporated into the Ultramarine paint scheme from the start.
Again I think the original attempt was relatively faithful to the box art if a little too dark in the purple skin and too light in the blue carapace. The colours are extremely flat with very little layering beyond the bone of its claws. And shout out to those old school green bases. My first new paint job from the Space Hulk box was the middle Genestealer, which is probably closer to how I have always pictured them. Saturated skintones in unusual hues are great for aliens. Continuing my previous comments about seeking varied skintones, I found a lore-consistent approach with the inversion on the right side. When separated from their brood, Genestealers lose their colouring and shift to the traditional blue and purple appearance that aids with concealment in corridors, so some adopting a dark purple carapace with blue skin seems equally plausible. Sure, an in-universe justification for the appearance of fictional characters isn’t strictly necessary, but I enjoy that aspect of worldbuilding anyway.

Rule #32: Enjoy the miniature things

Few current readers are likely to know of Palace of the Phoenix King, one of the first websites I created at the age of around 12, dedicated to my recently discovered hobby of fantasy tabletop gaming, specifically Warhammer Fantasy Battles and its dungeon-crawling sibling, Warhammer Quest. The site took its name from the monarch of the High Elves of Ulthuan, who shared the “Phoenix” moniker I used online. Sadly, nothing remains of the site (which collated fan-created content from around the world) or its broader successor, Palace of the Phoenix.

As a teenager I became a modestly capable miniature painter, though never hugely proficient. As a hobby, it fell by the wayside when I departed for university. Several years ago, playing D&D with friends gave me an excuse to paint a few miniatures, and I still found it enjoyable to engage in a creative endeavour which resulted in something physical that I could hold. At the start of this year, I found myself returning to the painting side of the hobby in earnest, fuelled in large part by experimenting with a newer style of acrylic paints: highly pigmented but suspended in a thinner medium that pools in the recesses whilst leaving a translucent layer on the surface. Combining these with traditional acrylic layering and washes has provided some fresh creativity to old skills. I also learned some new techniques for photographing miniatures, and will share the results here.

I dug out some of my old greenskin models at my parents’ house, stripped them with isopropyl alcohol and repainted them from scratch. These old metal orcs were simple but expressive and I kept them fairly classic. When painting at this small scale, increased contrast is necessary to improve readability. However, I have never really been a fan of the Games Workshop signature style of stark edge highlights across an entire model. I much prefer the results from zenithal highlights (undercoating based on light hitting from above) or volumetric highlighting (breaking down a model into basic geometric shapes). A subconscious decision, I found myself varying the skintones across the models I have been painting even within a species like the greenskins — why should they all be an identical shade of Goblin Green? Having noticed, I now think the variety is important. I also started experimenting more with bases, beyond the flock and static grass of old, using coconut coir (crushed coconut shell fibres) for more irregular, organic ground coverage.
When visiting Downing in April for a 20-year anniversary, I may have wandered into a Warhammer store a few doors down from college and come away with a box of ogres (or “Ogors” as Games Workshop now calls them in a desire for everything to be trademarkable). I have always liked the characterful ogre models with their exaggerated proportions, and their larger size made them ideal as a first subject when learning how to photograph miniatures. The large bases also allowed me to experiment with more advanced basing materials like texture pastes, grass tufts and leaf litter.
A lot of the models I have been painting recently are the undead rather than my prior staples of elves and greenskins. I happened to have some boxes of Mantic’s skeletons and zombies that I bought several years ago (intended for D&D) as these models were more threatening and considerably better priced than their more cartoonish Games Workshop equivalents. These are some of the first models I painted this year and there is some noticeably chalky texturing that is far smoother in later models. The coconut coir is on full display here, though I am tempted to rebase them: the zombies rising from mud and the skeletons on dungeon flagstones.
Given my love for Warhammer Quest, I had to pick up the recently released Cursed City. For infamously overpriced Warhammer products, the 60 models in the £100 box were surprisingly good value. Comparing these to the models above provides a stark demonstration of the “detail creep” in modern miniatures, accelerated by computer-aided design. I was not initially a fan of the Deadwalker Zombies which felt overdesigned with their coffin lids and headstones on their backs; that was until I realised that the inhabitants of the vampire-influenced cursed city of Ulfenheim must have been impaling corpses after burying them in order to prevent them from turning, only for the dead to be raised as zombies instead. That storytelling through visual design won me over and these are now some of my favourites pieces to date, even if the level of detail provided less room for interpretation through painting. I have also tried to tie the models to their bases through weathering (like the muddied hems of dresses).

There will definitely be more from the Cursed City box to share in the future. Next time, however, my revamped models from the 1996 edition of the Space Hulk board game.

"Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has."

(CC) BY-NC 2004-2024 Priyan Meewella

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