In Italy we use to say, when somebody tries to push himself beyond his limits, accepting to take risks, that he "throws the heart over the obstacle".
I think that all of us we had that kind of moment at least once, and usually we realize that no matter if the result satisfied our expectations: having tried our best in itself was worth it.
Talking about our latest projects, recently we really threw our hearts over the obstacle, in order to design two kits that, at least for us, represented a big challenge: the Bluecoat Pathfinder and the Iron Titan.
Before going on, let me reassure you: this post is not an advertising written in pompous slogans. I hate that kind of marketing and I'm not even good at it, so don't worry.
Rather, if you like to know what happens "behind the scenes", I think this post could be interesting for you (or at least I hope!).
As far as my finances allow it, I always try not to compromise when it comes to design a new sculpt. I know, it sounds like the opening words of an advertising for an expensive car, but it's painfully true!
When I talk about compromise, I refer to all those annoying (but important) details that a sensible businessman has to think about when designing a product: banally, cost optimization.
In specific, in miniatures design there are two main factors, equal for everyone , that influence the cost of a product: size and components.
Simplifying the concept in a rough way, we can say that if you want to design a miniature with an excellent ratio of cost optimization, you have to contain its size and above all the amount of separate components (normally called "bits") that composes it.
As you may easily imagine, a big size means more resin to be used to produce the kit, and a large number of bits makes the mold more complex and means a longer work for the caster.
As said before, a sensible businessman focused principally on optimizing the design, to avoid that the costs rise.
And then there is me.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not that kind of person that loves to "throw money outside the window". Not only because I simply can't afford it, but as you well know, I'm a Ligurian: I am biologically designed to feel a tremendous pain, every time I pay for something.
There are three reasons behind my idea of "no compromise", and at least in my mind, they are reasonable (if you think I'm wrong, please leave a comment):
1) I simply can't accept to save money, for a miniature that I don't like. To me, spending 5€ for a product that doesn't make my heart beat, means simply that I wasted 5€. Instead, I prefer to spend 8-10€ for something that I'm proud of. This is why not only I won't be rich in my life, but also this is why, when I die, I'll go to the Ligurians' Hell (there is pesto instead of fire).
2) The miniatures business is over saturated, it's a fact. I don't say it's wrong: not at all! But the competition to get your attention is damn tough. We are brand new, here, and we can't take advantage of a valuable market position, so I think that the best way to have your attention is to try to do only our best. That means, at least for my opinion, no compromises.
3) I don't want to paint miniatures that I don't like.
These 3 reasons lead us (finally) to the crux of the matter: the biggest, most complex and less compromised kits we ever designed.
THE BLUECOAT PATHFINDER
As surely many of you, when I was a little child I was totally obsessed with dinosaurs and prehistoric animals in general.
At that time, in fact, I spent my days watching the vhs of an amazing Italian series called "The Planet of Dinosaurs", made by Piero Angela, a science journalist that worked (and still works!) on Italian public television.
This legendary man made something incredible, for the early 90's: a series of documentaries about the age of dinosaurs, designed for a young audience. He, and his staff, created amazing scenography to recreate the prehistoric world as a movie, using animatronics and with Piero Angela himself that acted as a time-traveler.
Totally amazing, above all if we consider that we are speaking about 1993, in Italy: that series, for those years, was pure avant-garde. If you are wondering what I'm talking about, here a little taste (watch it from 5:50)
Unfortunately, the same year Steven Spielberg presented Jurassic Park I, and the awesome work of Piero Angela was (predictably) totally overshadowed by it. So sad.
However, as you may have guessed, "The planet of dinosaurs" had a great influence on me and since then my passion for dinosaurs and prehistoric animals grew up with me.
That brings us to the main subject of this post: the Bluecoat Pathfinder.
Unexpectedly, this character just poured out of me, even if there were long discussions between me and my girlfriend about it.
I was searching for a big, catchy centerpiece for the Kickstarter bundle dedicated to the Bluecoats regiment, and since the beginning I thought about something "out of the schemes".
Initially, my idea was to mix the Napoleonic age with dinosaurs, which wasn't obviously an unprecedented idea, but at least in the miniatures landscape it's something fresh and unusual, and I was searching for something that could pop-out, from the usual characters we are used to see.
With the dwarf range, in fact, I designed a lot of interesting (well, for my tastes!) sculpts, but even if some of them are big and complex kits (think about, for example, Great Master Galarr or the Augu-Nornir), there wasn't in my range a "big dude", you know, that kind of kit that hits the audience with the classic "wow effect".
With the Bluecoat Pathfinder I wanted to create my first attempt to design a "wow-effected-character".
Usually, before going into details with my friends Valerio and Davide (the sculptors), I always start to design a new character from one of my little pleasures: the fluff.
I always begin with fluff, then I think about the design of a proper character that is able to catch as better as possible the idea I have in mind.
I have no drawing skills, unfortunately, so I'm not able to work as a normal creative does, drawing tons and tons of concept sketches 'till some good lines appear. Instead, I have to use words to summon my ideas in real, so here is why the fluff is so important in our creative process: it's the only link between my ideas and the talent of my sculptors that are called to sculpt them!
Concerning the Bluecoat Pathfinder, the basic idea was to create a sort of "Bluecoat epitome". Bluecoats are intended to be mainly explorers, rather than front-line soldiers. They sail around the world to discover new lands, re-discover lost ones and, possibly, claim them for the Second Government.
They are principally adventurers, and they have to face any kind of perils and terrains.
With that in mind, I imagined that the best "product" of this regiment would be a sort of unstoppable explorer, able to go where no one else can go.
At first I imagined then a Bluecoat riding a Parasaurolophus: one of my favorite dinosaurs.
That guy was totally suitable for the role I had in mind: a great mount (wow effect), with an exotic look (you know, I'm kinda posh...), and perfect to catch the idea of something able to move fast. Moreover, it seemed to me also credible as a mount: a bit herbivore, easily comparable to a beast of burden.
However, my girlfriend didn't agree with me: according to her, the Parasaurolophus lacked of an important virtue, for a prototype of a "perfect explorer": the ability to fly.
I was totally in love with the idea of a Parasaurolophus, but I had to admit that she was right.
So we discussed a long about what kind of animal to choose, and suddenly she thought about replacing the dinosaur idea, with a... bird one.
We can say I didn't warmly agree, but (again) I had to admit that she was right.
But I didn't want to give up completely to my idea of a prehistoric mount, so I started to search for a prehistoric bird that didn't make me regret my beloved Parasaurolophus.
Finally, I found something that could fit: the Terror Bird.
Obviously, I had to transform it a bit, to accord it on my purposes: I imagined for it new wings, able to glide (with the right air currents), and a longer plumage on its tail, just to balance better its shape.
Et voila: the Kenken was born! (the name Kenken refers to the real species of "Kelenken", a prehistoric bird that belongs to the same family of terror birds).
Even if it wasn't a Parasaurolophus, I was happy the same.
Of course, people would see in it a Chocobo (it's normal, after all the similarity is obvious), but at least I knew that the Kenken was born with its own shape.
The sculpting process has been difficult, cause Valerio had to manage a difficult and very complex scene.
To underline the dynamic nature of this character, I asked for a dynamic pose, which was a sort of unprecedented design for us: I generally prefer, in fact, static poses.
I think they suits better for diorama and random showcase purposes: a dynamic character I think is very good to see on the battlefield, but (my idea) if you want just to take a miniature, paint it and put it on your showcase, I think that static poses are more versatile.
With the Pathfinder, however, I wanted to express its nature in a more evident way.
The difficulty of managing a complex character, also, lies on the balance of details: it's always important to properly dose the amount of details you sculpt on a figure, but when it comes to big characters, is even more crucial.
We are always tempted to add more and more details on a figure, and concerning this 3d sculpting doesn't help: you literally are able to sculpt an infinite amount of details, because during the sculpting process you are able to zoom your character at will.
If you are sculpting by hand a 24mm dwarf, for example, you think twice before trying to add an intricate runic decoration on your 3mm axe: there are tangible limits that prevent you from exaggerating.
If you are sculpting on zbrush, you can see that axe at the same size of your 32" screen. So you don't realize that you are making a super intricate runic decoration, that once 3dprinted would require an microscope to be seen!
I didn't make the axe-example by chance: in our first sculpts we often exaggerated with details, just like on Drakkol's axe.
For this reason, on our Pathfinder we tried reduce the detail to the essential.
The minor details, like the luggage, are simplified, and we try to keep easy the general shapes.
All our (well, Valerio's...) efforts were put on two main points: the Bluecoat's face and the plumage texture.
Despite the complexity, I think that Valerio did an amazing job, I'm so proud of him.
The Bluecoat Pathfinder is something that I'm really proud to see, cause I think it represents perfectly our philosophy of making things: there were basically no compromises in its sculpt, and I'm sure I'll have to sell one of my kidneys to produce it, but it is exactly as I imagined it since the beginning.
I wanted a big, classy centerpiece for the upcoming Bluecoat bundle, and I could not ask for anything better (well, except for a Parasaurolophus!).