Saturday, 29 March 2014

Miniature Scale Meets Real Scale! Why Miniature Painting is Weird

Sable and Spray's main mission has been to bring you, "Musings and Inspiration From the World of Miniature Painting".  Now, what exactly does that mean?

In a nutshell, it means that I'm somewhat obsessed with anything to do with miniature painting, and just about all aspects of it.  And I want to share that obsession with everyone I can.  

Unlike many (perhaps most) of the miniature painting blogs out there, the majority of my posts are rarely about my own painting and documenting my WIP's (works in progress).  Perhaps I would do more posts like that, but the sad reality is that I find it difficult to find time for painting these days.  But somehow I still seem to manage to browse the Net and see what else is going on, dig through my rather extensive collection of miniature painting books and magazines dating back to the mid-eighties, and pop into gaming and art stores every so often.

However, there are times when I come across something so very inspiring, that I log it away in my mind for future reference.  One such project I'm contemplating is a fusion miniature-scale / real scale project.

A what?

Well, consider the fact that we build and paint miniatures about an inch tall in real life, that are supposed to represent characters that are approx. 5-7 ft tall in a fantasy / sci-fi setting.  It's a fundamental tenet in our art medium.

In doing so, there are certain techniques we employ to give that teeny tiny model a somewhat realistic (but honestly, it's really quite stylistic) sense of scale.  We hyper exaggerate the highlights and shadows, so that the implied lighting looks like how light would fall upon a full size human (or elf, dwarf, orc, alien, etc.).  The sculpted details are often hyper exaggerated as well... for example, the size of the eyes are huge in comparison to how big they would be on a real person's face.  We do this so that the viewer can still make out recognizable details on an inch tall lump of lead / pewter / resin / plastic at an arm's length.  Even though all those details are grossly out of proportion to reality, our brains readily accept them.

Why?  Because humans have been doing this in art form for so long, we just don't notice it any more.

Let's look at stage makeup.  In order to better make out facial details from afar, makeup is incredibly bold, and details that help identify the character (like wrinkles) are painted on the same way you would on a mask.  This is so that the guys in the cheap seats way at the back of the theatre can still get a sense of which actors represent which characters, and what the heck is going on.

Let's look at comic books.  If people actually looked like superheroes, then we'd all have zero body fat, muscles plumped up worse than a steroid-monkey, and legs the length of a giraffe's neck.

How about cartoons?  Blimp sized heads, eyes the size of oranges.

Just as an example, let's look at the scale of the weapons on our miniatures as compared to weapons in real life.  The pistol I'm most familiar with is the Sig Sauer P226 DAK, as those are the issued pistols at my work.  It's 34 oz in weight, 5.5 inches long, and 7.7 inches long.  It's reasonably unobtrusive when worn on the hip (doesn't affect running or wrestling much), and a little bigger than my outstretched hand (I won't compare its length to other parts of my anatomy).

In contrast, a laspistol or autopistol in Games Workshop's Warhammer 40,000 lore is a massive beast of a gun.  While supposedly one of the smallest and most ineffectual weapons of that fictitious universe, they are easily as long as some model's forearms, and as tall as ping-pong paddle.  If you could imagine a pistol the size of the largest hair dryer you have ever seen, then you get an idea of how exaggerated the size of most weapons are in sci-fi and fantasy.

But put all that aside for just one second.  Imagine for a moment, what could happen if you mixed miniature scale with real scale?  

Not going to work, some might say.  It would look really weird, some might say.  But remember the huge success of the movie, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"

When this movie first came out in 1988, it was groundbreaking.  You never saw animated characters interacting with real actors before (as far as I could recall).  It took a few minutes to get used to it, and then your brain just accepted the whole thing.  It was absolutely delicious for a Saturday morning cartoon addicted kid like myself (even though I was just starting high school at the time).

It takes a certain amount of "out-of-the-box" thinking, but couldn't a mixed-media approach like this be applied to miniature art?

Well, other people thought of this a long time ago, and it's been done pretty darn well on a few occasions.

1988 not only brought us Roger Rabbit, but also "Pour Some Sugar on Me" by Def Leppard, crack cocaine, and the incomparable Bolt Thrower. That year also saw Games Workshop publish a book called, "Fantasy Miniatures", and in it, Darren Webb brought us a mug of snotlings.  This pic absolutely blew my teenage mind.  It was whimsical, fun, well executed, well painted, but probably wasn't great to drink out of.

It wasn't until the start of the 21st century that we saw something comparable.

As far as I can tell, Coolminiornot launched sometime around 2000-2001.  In 2004, they published their very first CMoN Annual.  Sometime inbetween, Dirk "Brushguy" Stiller posted up this pic of his take of a "Tempest in a Teacup".  According to the description in the 2003 CMoN Annual, it was simply titled, "Hippogryffe Rescue".

Upon first glance, I saw the incredible water effects that he did.  Incredibly vibrant, super rich contrasts... this was something far beyond the poured clear epoxy resin that everyone else was experimenting with at the time.  While clear resin is neat stuff, it's not all that stylized... it scales well to a point, but it doesn't portray turbulent water the same way a fantasy canvas artist would.  It works great for relatively calm water, but Dirk's approach seemed to work much better for the impression of rough seas.

Once my eyes had feasted their fill on the water, they started to take in the amazing paintjob of the miniatures.  Gorgeous blends, well defined detailing... what more could you ask for?  But wait... what they heck did he use for a display stand???

Oh my freaking gosh.  It's a fricking tea cup, spoon, and saucer.  There's even a cube of sugar on the side.  That particular detail didn't jump out at me at first, but once I did notice it, I couldn't get over it.  It was one of the neatest presentations of a mini-diorama I had ever seen.  The choice of a clean white porcelain was ideal... no crazy prints on the side or saucer to distract from the main subject matter.  The size of the cup and saucer also gave it the perfect amount of negative space to frame the diorama perfectly.  In short, it was brilliant.

Then, about a decade later, I came across this:

Raffaele Picca of Massive Voodoo fame produced this wonderful diorama in 2012.  According to the Figure Art book they published a little while back (it was an Indiegogo project that I was fortunate enough to get in on), this is a 54mm model, which means that this tea cup is probably closer to the size of a small soup bowl.  However, instead of little bits of nori and cubes of tofu, Raffaele put this in his bowl:

Yup.  Those are tiny little fish he made for the diorama.  I'm guessing he laid down lots of layers of clear resin, and suspended the hand painted fish throughout.  This way, they were suspended in the water effects at various depths.

I won't even go into how great the painting is for this diorama.  Instead, I'll focus on the composition and decision making that might have gone into this.

The colours of the bowl complement the colours used in the diorama perfectly.  They are similar to the monk's clothing, but the greens of the monk are a bit brighter, thus making it the rightful focus point, and drawing your eyes towards him first.

The grey stone is a suitably neutral colour, but the use of green lichen on it makes it blend in to the rest of the scene better... a cold grey on it's own would have been jarring and disruptive.  In addition, I detect a touch of brown tones in the shading, which tones them down and makes it earthier.

The stone also elevates the monk figure way above the rim of the bowl.  The tapered sides form a sort of inverted funnel / cone up to the model, and those lines draw your eye up to the figure.

This is undeniably one of my favourite pieces of all time.  There are much stronger pieces out there in terms of sheer technical skill exhibited, but the theme, the presentation, and the imagination that went into this are to be greatly respected.

Now, all the above pieces could have been amazing pieces of artwork on their own, without the use of mugs, cups, and bowls as glorified display stands.  However, there is something that I saw in a game shop years and years ago that absolutely relied on everyday mundane objects in order to make it work:

Fairy Meat was an incredibly bizarre miniatures game, based on the premise that your miniatures were actually 1:1 scale... that is to say that the models represented actual fairies that were the exact same size as the physical models themselves.

What that meant in terms of gameplay was that instead of setting out a gaming table with various terrain representing bushes, buildings, and the like, you simply picked an area anywhere, set up your miniatures, and played there.  Your fairies could take cover behind the salt shaker on the dining table.  They could fly up to the top of the coffee pot to gain an elevated position for line of sight.  If you happened to be playing outdoors, you could scamper from mushroom to mushroom during your movement phase.  The whole concept was weirdly neat sounding.  That's about as much info as I can give you regarding the game, but I did find a more in-depth post about it on this blog:

The strange thing is, I actually bought a few miniatures for this game.  Not to play with, mind you.  But I was trying really hard to get my wife into painting miniatures, and these were the models she picked out at the game store.

The above pic isn't one of my wife's models... they're just what I found with a quick Google search.  Let's just say that while my wife had fun painting her fairy miniatures, she quickly lost interest in painting LONG before she got really good at it.  And she really looked hurt when I explained to her the reason why the fairies were all carrying bows and swords was because they were out to kill other fairies and eat their flesh.

Anyway, it's getting late once again, and I'm going to need some sleep after hearing my favourite hockey team lost again, and is unlikely to make the playoffs.  I started this post just to mull over the reasons why I'm considering starting some sort of project that relies on interacting with a real world scale item, hoping that it would help me visualize how I was going to go about it.  I have to confess though, this may sit on the back burner for awhile... I still have no idea what I'm going to do.  In the meantime, I'll probably pick up some half finished projects I've abandoned in the past, and try and finish them off in time for the next painting competition (whenever that is).

That does seem to be a major weakness of mine as an artist.  I can't help but overthink things to the point of paralyzing myself with indecision.


1 comment:

  1. Epic post. You have a unique perspective and voice.

    The Canucks...*sigh*...