Thursday 29 March 2012

Past Projects- Team S.H.E.D

Something else from the Archives, though more recent in this case… the Specialist Hazard-Engagement Division, or Team S.H.E.D

This is a project that I cooked up a few years ago, made a start on, and then abandoned. Way back in the mists of time (2004-ish) Tom Roberts, a good mate of mine, came up with an online comic called “The Jamshed Strip” which was on deviantart, and was a sort of collaborative venture with half a dozen people putting up their own comics, with their own characters, but all of us working to the same format and template. My own efforts evolved into MiniShed, which featured a mixed cast of anthropomorphic animals (based off three talking dogs I’d been doodling for years in sketchbooks at college), and humans (myself, Tom, my missus Amy, and later a fourth character called Harmony/Happygoth, who’d evolved from a character created for a photography project).
Minished faltered away a bit after we all left University, and I was looking around the 2007/08 point for a way of evolving my characters. I had all the props and miniatures from the Britannia Model Village (indeed, the project was still ongoing at the time), so I came up with the idea of doing a James Bond-inspired comic featuring drawn characters, and using miniatures for backgrounds and effects shots, something I’d worked a bit into the shorter comics.

The plan never properly got beyond doing some sets, and the ‘hero’ vehicles for Team SHED, largely because I couldn’t work out a satisfying storyline. The mini comics changed instead, the anthro animal characters were redesigned to resemble their original animal forms, and the comics gradually died a death as the other contributors gave up, and Deviantart became basically a free stock site for bored American teenagers to nick art from.


Largely inspired from my love for Gerry Anderson TV shows and 70’s Dr Who, SHED was equal parts U.N.I.T (Dr Who) and SPECTRUM (Captain Scarlet). The idea was that the shed of the title concealed the entrance to a huge underground secret base, and the characters were a secret and not particularly effective counter-espionage force. SHED worked for the Britannia Government (it all being ‘set’ in the same fictional universe of the model village project), generally fighting evil, each other, and random passers-by in an attempt to preserve the rule of law in Britannia.

In the best traditions of Gerry Anderson TV shows, each character had their own vehicle, and these are shown here:

HMS Skyshed
The most blatant homage, or rip-off if you will, regarding Captain Scarlet was to have a stratospheric Aircraft Carrier. This model was originally sketched during the model village project, but the idea was dropped as it would be scientifically implausible and doubtful to even get built with British workmanship.
It’s built roughly to N scale, and mainly made from foamboard, with odd bits of model kits here and there. I constructed it when I was doing a spell of Jury Duty and thus had long spells of time during the day waiting to be called in, in which I could sit and sketch more random bits to add to the model. It never ended up getting as detailed as I’d have liked though, and spent several years gathering dust before it was unceremoniously scrapped and destroyed, with a few bits getting reclaimed for the spares box. To be honest, the model was too large and fragile to store, yet too small for practical photography purposes for the project.

Because it wouldn’t be British without a Land Rover. Inspired by the pointlessly-over modified Range Rover in Torchwood, and an intended running joke in the story would have been how often the Land Rover got blown up, being as you can pretty much guarantee that if a Landy appears in a Bond Film (or any other action film for that matter) its probably going to get wrecked.

Modifications were of the make-it-up-as-you-go-along method, just adding random bits, but it did have a swappable chassis so it could run on railway tracks.

Another nod to Captain Scarlet, a metallic blue tank. Intended for a “Goldeneye”-esque chase scene, the model was modified from a cheapo toy Bradley APC, with moved turret, bigger gun, and a few other odds and ends bodged onto it.


Harmony, or Happygoth as her nickname would have been, was based on a character I’d created for a fashion photography project at Uni (some pics from a later reshoot of the project here ***) - the archetypical girly-girl. Hence the pink and purple fighter jet with huge aerodynamically-implausible rocket boost on the back.


Another simple conversion, a Hercules with jet engines, mainly because the original and somewhat fragile propellers had all snapped away by this point (I’d had the model half-built in a box since about 1997). And yes I realise the airframe would have shattered apart had anything like this actually been built, but hey-ho.

So the project was abandoned- some shots from it ended up in the last throes of the model village project before it was abandoned. As mentioned above, the aircraft carrier was broken up; all the other models survive though.

A different take on the comic idea has arisen lately though- shorter (24 page) comics, featuring the characters as they were at the end of the Minished run, and shot using miniatures as backgrounds. The stories are shorter which allows for more jokes crammed into a shorter space. Team SHED as a concept is sort-of still around, though it won’t be in the form shown here. Will post more on that at a later date, but production is pencilled-in to begin after the Steampunk stuff is done later this year…

Sunday 25 March 2012

Old Project- Scary Louise (Cyberpunk)

Time for another break from Steampunk, and instead into Cyberpunk.

Back when I was in college, in a supporting environment with little to no bullying, my Nerd side had full reign, and I ended up wallowing around in a project that allowed me to get into Cyberpunk. There was a lot of meddling around with science fiction concepts and all sorts of related stuff, and whilst I cant quite remember what led me to this, for my final piece I decided to follow up a theme of modified humans being created from injured people to create a slave-race in some dark dystopian future. Yes, in hindsight I realise a) Cliché, b) I needed to get out more, and c) this is probably why I had such trouble picking up girls in my teens.

Moving along… Louise here (named for the brand of the incredibly tacky fancy-dress wig bought for the project) is a piece of sort-of lifesize sculpture, much to the annoyance of my parents whose loft this resides in whilst I live over a hundred miles away in my nice new house. The model is based around a polystyrene shop-dummy head bought from a beauty salon- my residing memory being of my annoyance at how much the woman running the shop charged me for it. Anyway, I bought the fancy dress wig, then made up a latex solution to create the flesh covering, and coloured the skin with acrylics. The basic ‘chamber’ was built with mountcard around a wooden frame, and other details were added with all sorts of bits of tat and electronic components from a broken computer found in a skip round the back of the college.

The final model was ok-ish, and got me a good mark from my slightly bewieldered lecturers, but a couple of years after the project I experimented a bit with still-life photos, and some creative lighting, and got some fairly decent (for the time and camera I was using) shots. I may at some point get around to tarting it all up and reshooting the pics, assuming that its still intact after 8 years in the loft… Or maybe a Steampunk version beckons, given that most of my other work at the moment revolves around Victorian scifi.

Thursday 15 March 2012

Work in Progress- Warhammer 40K Thunderbolt Fighter Jet

And now for something completely different, or at least a break from Steampunk…

The Waffle:

When I was in my early teens I was very much into Warhammer 40,000. Not so much the gaming aspect, oddly enough, but the stuff around it. Here was this massive science fiction world which had all this supporting literature to add depth to proceedings, frankly fantastic art work, and rather nice and imaginative miniatures. With all that, I found I couldn’t get quite so enthused about the reality of mating all that supporting stuff with actually playing the games, preferring to focus on collecting and painting the models.  Different strokes for different folks though.

I stopped playing Warhammer, but kept an interest in the literature and imagery, and indeed my sketchbooks from about the ages of 12-19 are crammed with drawings of 100-foot high Titans or future-retro tanks, and I have the distinct feeling that it led rather strongly to projects like Britannia. I still read the literature, especially the Dan Abnett stuff, and one of his best is the book “Double Eagle”, which is a sort of Battle-of-Britain in the Warhammer 40k universe with Imperial pilots (the goodies) flying armoured fighter planes against The Archenemy Baddies.

Being a fan of this book, and wanting to do something non-steampunk for the sake of my sanity (what do you mean not every vehicle needs to run on coal?! Heresy!), I decided to have a go at building a Thunderbolt Fighter. I’ve been wanting to do some experiments with miniatures shots, trying to achieve in-camera effects I currently use photoshop for, and felt I needed a large-scale model to try it out with- more on this in a future post.

The current design of the Thunderbolt is a model produced by Forge World, and whilst its a lovely piece of sculpting in keeping with the current 40K design style, it didn't quite appeal to me. I thought I'd have a go at doing my own interpretation based on descriptions in the books, so I decided not to even produce a design sketch or doodle for this, and just have a go. It would also be in a larger scale than Warhammer miniatures do- mine would be built to 1/32nd as a consequence of needing large models for my intended shots.

This would be a proper Ben-build, done on as cheap a budget possible, using recycled parts. When I did “Britannia” I needed a couple of large aircraft models, and ended up customising large toys or cheap-and-nasty model kits, somewhat crudely as they were only background items. These had been pretty much ground to bits anyway in two subsequent house moves and storage in a box in the loft, so out came the hacksaw.

The basis for the Thunderbolt are four large aircraft kits/toys- a US A-10 thunderbolt in 1/48th scale, a 1/32nd F-105 Starfighter, a toy passenger jet of unknown type, and a toy that somewhat resembles a Vulcan bomber with a Concorde fuselage. The models were dismantled and rebuilt, glued back together, and generally mangled around into the right sort of configuration. The distinctive engines were made from marker pens.

Trial fit of the components here, to see how they would relate to each other. At this point the plan was still to use the entire of the passenger plane fuselage, inverted.

The cockpit assembly from the Starfighter kit shoe-horned into the inverted passenger jet fuselage.

The cockpit assembly and rear fuselage- the framing was built up from parts from a tractor cab (1/32nd scale poundworld toy), the fuselage is the chopped about remains of the A-10 body.
Further detailing and structural work was added with mountcard, then the cockpit assembly was built up- components from the Starfighter kit forming the main interior, with the framing built up from a 1/32nd toy tractor cab from a poundshop. More details were built up from bits and pieces from the scrapbox. Oddly the only actual Warhammer kit components going into this are the nose guns.

Much more to be done on this model, though annoyingly its been pushed back by more Steampunk stuff- I do intend to get this finished pretty soon though, returning to it as a break from building steam powered contraptions. I have a feeling that Steampunk may be about to, if not has already, jumped the proverbial clockwork mecha-shark, so I want to get that project done soon-as…

Thursday 1 March 2012

And for todays update, more Steampunk, and in this case, the Iron Horse.

The Waffle:

"The Iron Horse (or ‘Copper Dragon’ as they were sometimes also referred to, due to the shape of their heads) was already old technology by the time of the Century Survey images being recorded in 1901. One of many devices built to harness steam technology, they were designed as essentially a road-going locomotive, with the power to haul much greater loads than horses. The various designs of Iron Horse became popular throughout the mid 1800’s, but as technology advanced the larger companies replaced them, meaning they were gradually passed to smaller companies and enterprises.
By the late 1930’s petrol and diesel powered vehicles had largely made the Iron Horse redundant, and many were scrapped, especially as part of the war effort when metal was required in large amounts. Saltaires two famous Iron Horses, Jemima and Matilda, originally belonged to the Mill and were later passed to the Leeds-Liverpool Navigation Company, based at the canal maintenance depot near the mill. When the horses were replaced in 1907, they passed back to the Mill, where they were preserved in working order and often used at local ceremonial functions. In the 1960’s they were moved to the new Industrial Museum in Bradford, becoming part of the Mechanical Horses Trust. Since restored to working order, they are regularly used for demonstration haulage events in the museum."

The Reality:

So this is another one of those ideas that kind of developed a momentum of its own, as the project went on... When I started doodling ideas for Steampunk themed vehicles, thinking along the classic steampunk-lines of ‘take an ordinary thing, overcomplicate it, make it out of metal and cover it in cogs whether or not it would make sense in the real world’, I wondered about a sort of cross between a tractor and a replacement for the horse.

It’s loosely inspired by early road-going steam locomotives, of the sort built by Trevithick, with hints of Stephenson’s Rocket in the layout of its component parts. It looked considerably more imposing with caterpillar tracks, even though it would make it hideously impractical and complicated to drive. And then I ended up going for the over-ornamentation approach of making it look a little bit like a horse, to give it a bit of character.

Some of the detail parts are designed to be interchangeable, such as the head, so the basic body can be modified easily to represent more than one vehicle. The main body itself comprises a foamboard chassis plate with a boiler/smokebox constructed from a Fairtrade Chocolate Sprinkles tub (the advantages of being the assistant manager of a café, plenty of access to things like this for Blue-Peter style builds). Detailing was the Ben-Standard combination of bits of felt pen, old toys, model kits, mountcard, and all the sorts of things you end up using when working on a budget of nowt. Oh to have access to bins full of thousands of bits of Airfix kits, like Gerry Andersons mob used to use. Heyho.

As you can see from the guest appearance of Dr Who driving it, I wanted this to be quite a big model, so I could go a bit mad with the detailing. It was always intended to be a ‘Hero’ model in the photomanips, and feature very prominently, so whereas the Monorail is built to 1/72nd as a background piece, the mechanical horse needed to be much larger.

Painting was a spray in grey primer, followed by Citadel “Chaos Black” (I really would recommend Citadel acrylic paints, they’re pretty bloody fantastic for miniatures work, and their sprays are some of the best I’ve used in 10 years of doing this kind of work). Then everything was dry brushed with copper and bronze, with some light highlighting with white and yellow. The finished effect with the painting is exactly what I was aiming for- a grimy, well-used, and old looking piece of kit; well used but showing its age.

Currently under construction are a different set of tracks to represent a different horse, and also an armoured mechanical tractor, a “War Horse” if you will, for pulling artillery cannons.