Friday, 10 December 2010

Model Making: Laser Cut Wargames Scenery

The rise of CAD (Computer Aided Design) has seen a marked change in the production processes used by figure manufacturers. Rapid Prototyping, sometimes called 3D printing is playing an important role in figure design and even more so in the design of prototypes for vehicles, whether they be tanks, spaceships or huge steampunk airships!

The main companies that I have encountered that produce laser cut products for wargamers are as follows, there may well be others and if you know of any please leave a link in the comments section. Rapid Prototyping is a fairly expensive process (although it is getting cheaper all the time), however there is an alternative CAD driven technology that is starting to prove useful within the wargaming industry. Laser cutting and engraving falls somewhere between printing and rapid prototyping. Laser cutters can be used to cut and engrave a variety materials including MDF, plywood, acrylic, cork, card and rubber.

S6 Engineerings Road Bridge #2 (Acrylic)

Litko produces a whole range of game tokens and markers produced in various coloured acrylics that really raise the quality of many games tables. They also do various other gaming accessories including several model buildings. S6 Engineering, a new company have recently released a series of laser cut acrylic roads and canals, and they also have a selection of templates and other accessories. Finally Warbases make an extensive range of laser cut MDF bases and movement trays, they are also developing a range of MDF kit buildings.
Litko 28mm Modular City Building (Micro-plywood)

In the workshop I run we have just purchased a laser cutter and over the past few weeks I have been running through a series of projects to familiarise myself with running the machine and preparing files for it.

OK, so what is "Laser Cutting and Engraving"? 

The laser cutter itself shares much with the larger commercial inkjet printers, in fact the software that drives it is installed on a PC as a print driver. At it's most simple level, using vector graphics software, lines that are drawn in red will be cut, and lines that are drawn in black will be engraved. The initial outlay on a laser cutting machine is quite high, but the day to day running costs are fairly low.

As part of my learning to use the laser cutter I wanted to try out an architectural model (my workshop is part of a school of architecture after all). While I was thinking this over I happened to read the September issue of Wargames Illustrated which had the plans in for a project to make a Spanish style convent model. This seemed like the ideal project to try out on my new machine.

I downloaded the plans from the Wargames Illustrated website and stated to plan the build. Firstly I extracted the image files from the downloaded pdf (WI have made these available for photocopying so as my project was going to achieve more or less the same result I don't think I have infringed any copyrights etc.), which I then imported into Corel Draw (the vector graphics software that the laser cutter uses). I converted the JPG images to Vector graphics, this makes them infinitely scalable and also prepared them for laser cutting.

At this point I did encounter a minor problem, the conversion from JPG to vector graphic seemed to introduce some distortion in the plans (although part of this may have been present in the original WI plans which were never designed for such accurate development). Consequently I ended up more or less redrawing the whole thing in Corel Draw to get them squared up and to get the arches and windows nice and even.

Rather than using foam core board as suggested in the WI article I decided to make my model in 4mm MDF sheet (I happened to have some lying around the workshop). So as well as redrawing the plan, I also added in the roof plans, that were left out of the WI article so that readers could set their own wall thicknesses.
This is a much reduced version of my cutting plan, it shows the cut lines in red and the engrave lines in black.

As an experimental model I was making this quite small, suitable for 6 or 10mm gaming. If however, I up scale it for, say, 15 or 28mm I will need to adjust the roof size to suit whatever material thickness I use.

Now everything is ready to go. The laser cutter we have has quite a small working area (around 610x45mm) but fortunately this whole job will fit on to one sheet.. I cut a piece of MDF and placed it in the machine, then in Corel Draw I hit print. Under the print preferences I specified the material to be cut and the thickness. Then I sent the job to the laser cutter. It took around 38 minutes to cut the whole thing. I may be able to reduce the cutting time as I experiment with the cutting speed of the laser.

The laser cut parts of the Convent.
Finally I had the plinth and dome to construct. The eight arched sides had to be sanded to an angle to get the to fit neatly together (the laser cutter will only make vertical cuts). Once this had been done I glued them all together following the octagonal shape I had laser etched into the top of the plinth.
I rescaled and laser cut the top plinth and arches to show how simple it would be to build this for any scale of figures you might wish for.

I wont go into the details of texturing and painting the convent as that was well covered in the original Wargames Illustrated article.

Here are a few examples of other hobby related projects I have done recently on the laser cutter.

My first attempt at texturing using the engraving settings on the laser cutter.

A painting station, with storage for paints. (I don't have the room for a permanent painting desk since my sons came along).

Well I hope that has gives some kind of insight into a tool that is being used more and more withing the wargaming industry.

Anyone interested in the Paint Station, please drop me an email and I may be able to sort you one out!

All of my model making (whether it be wargaming, miniatures or otherwise) blog posts will start with the Model Making: prefix!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Figure Sculpting: Resources

I have been sculpting miniatures in a semi-professional way for around 15 years now, although the past few years have been less productive due to my family commitments.

28mm Scale Knoll sculpted by David Drage. Master lost by client!
When I started out there was very little, if any reference material for budding sculptors to refer too, and even the staple sculpting material, Greenstuff (more correctly known as Kneadatite Blue/Yellow) was somewhat mythical and a supplier took quite a bit of tracking down, I actually bought my stock from the manufacturer in the US for sometime!

Over the years all of that has changed, there are no end of places to find advice about anatomy, sculpting, use of armatures, tools and materials; readily available online. Greenstuff and other sculpting putties are easliy found at many figure selling websites and even in your local Games Workshop store (if you are prepared to pay the price they charge).

Before I start posting regularly on figure sculpting I thought it would be worth putting up a list of the sites and resources that I have found useful.

Web Forums

Luthor Arkright, 150mm figure sculpted by David Drage. Project abandoned!
There are several forums that cover some aspect of sculpting, but the two that I frequent the most are:-

Frother Unite - Be warned, the language and general attitude on Frothers can be difficult to get used to - there is something of a "boys club" atmosphere on there that can be quite off putting, but there is no denying that the Frothers love their figures and, in amongst the venomous and purile comments, there is usually some very constructive advice.

Mini Sculpture - This is a relatively new community that has been created exclusively for figure sculptors to discuss their work, exchange information and critique miniatures, both in progress and finished.


There are quite a few blogs that are of interest to figure sculptors. Most are simple the blogs of experienced sculptor, passing on their thoughts and experiences, however some are more specifically focused:-

Make Your Own Sculpting Tools - This blog features some very good advice and instruction on making your own tools. Most sculptors end up making or altering their tools themselves that this blog goes in to some depth on making the more popular tools.

28mm SF Marine figure sculpted by David Drage.
The World According To Tom - The blog of veteran sculptor Tom Meier. As well as showcasing some of Tom's work (as he produces it) it also includes some wonderful insights into anatomy and proportion with regards to miniatures. I find this blog essential reading and Tom's explanations anatomy and sculpting technique are very enlightening.

Green Stuff Sculpting - Mainly based around the more advanced conversion of figures than out and out sculpting this site does offer some interesting ideas and is well worth checking out.

Massive Voodoo - Although primarily a first class figure painting blog, it does offer fairly regular articles on sculpting as well. To be honest the level of painting and and quality of photography alone make this blog worth following by anyone interested in collecting, sculpting or painting miniatures.

Last but not least...

I must mention 1ListSculpting, the Yahoo Group for figure sculptors. This sight has been an important place for anyone interested in figure sculpting to find information for many years. It is well worth signing up, even if it is just to download the FAQ, which is a treasure trove of information for starting sculptors.

Royal Marines and Navy c.1850, sculpted by David Drage for Scheltrum Miniatures. Painted by Mike Schraner.

Over the coming months, I am planning on doing more articles on figure sculpture, both looking at the development of my own figures and also possibly doing some tutorials on different aspects of sculpting miniatures.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Toy Soldiers: Going 15mm!

I have recently been caught up in the growing trend for science fiction wargamers to move from the traditional 28mm size figures down to the smaller size of 15mm.

This has been inspired by several things, firstly 15mm figures are cheaper, I can get a pack of 6 or 8 premium 15mm figures for the same price as 1, or possibly 2, 28mm figures. Secondly, there are a whole new selection of companies that are injecting new life in to the 15mm Science Fiction market. Critical Mass Games, Khaursan Miniatures and Rebel Minis for example. There are also the longer running companies like Ground Zero Games and Alternative Armies that have large selections of popular figures and vehicles.

Personally, I have been putting together a force of Critical Mass Games ARC Fleet miniatures. These armoured figures are your basic sci-fi humans, much in the "Halo" or literary "Starship Trooper" style. The vehicles are little works of art, produced in a combination of resin and pewter parts.

I have also been putting together a small force of Ground Zero Games Kra'Vak, which share some similarities to the movie "Predators"!

The Kra'Vak figure sculpts have been around for a good few years now, probably don't equal the modern figures that are around, but with a lick of paint they still come out really well. Also their vehicle are suitably different in design to my Arc Fleet force that they are easy to tell apart.

My gamer buddies and I have not settled on a good set of rules to use yet, as again there are a whole selection of new rules floating around to choose from. I am probably going to base my ARC Fleet figures to the size set out in the beta rules for Critical Mass Games own rule set, but we have been looking at several other sets that are out there too. These include Grunts, FUBAR and a few others that don't spring to mind at the moment.

Grunts certainly seems to be generating a good bit of interest at the moment though...

For anyone interested in watching the developments in the current 15mm science fiction gaming field, a couple of blogs certainly bare watching:-


In future I will prefix any wargaming article with the title Toy Soldiers:, this will hopefully make it easier to identify the wargaming articles!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Model Making: A New Toy!

I have just purchased a new belt sander for my workshop. It finally arrived yesterday and I got it up and running this afternoon.

Wow, I can sand anything now!
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