Thursday, 11 February 2016

TMM (True Metallic Metallics) vs NMM (Non Metallic Metallics) : Which Do I Like Better?

Coke versus Pepsi.  Ford versus Chevy.  Metal versus Punk.  These are the eternal debates of our time.  And now TMM versus NMM ranks right up there with the rest of them, at least for Miniature Painters.

First of all, what the heck is "TMM" and "NMM"?

"TMM" is short for "True Metallic Metallics", and in miniature painting, it's the use of metallic paints to represent metallic surfaces.  Most "metal" paints have a bit of colour pigment in the body of the paint, but also have ultra fine flecks of metal suspended in them as well, in order to give the paint its metallic shine or sheen.  The better the quality of paint, the more finely ground the metallic flake, which makes for a smoother appearance when dry (conversely, cheaper paints have course grind flakes, which makes them much rougher in appearance, almost pebbly).

"NMM" is short for "Non Metallic Metallics", which refers to the technique of simulating shine without actually using shiny paint.  The paints used are often matte finish, but by utilizing maximum contrast and a few other mind games to trick the eye, the viewer reads the painted miniature as "ooh... shiny".  There are no metallic flakes or pigments, but we are somehow given the strong impression of a metallic surface.

Up until the 21st Century, there was no debate.  We pretty much all used metallic pigmented paint.  I personally have fond memories of such classic GW staples as "Boltgun Metal", Chainmail", and Mithril Silver".  There were also metallic paints in bronze and gold as well, and even ones in rusty, weathered tones.

Application was very straightforward and simple.  Most of the time, we applied a dark or mid tone of metallic paint, gave it a ink wash for shading, and then highlighted with a brighter version of the base coat.  If you wanted to use a cruder, quicker method, you would simply drybrush over a black undercoat in successively brighter layers of metallic paints.  If you wanted to really take your time for a more polished look, you would thin out your metallic paints a bit on a palette, and gradually build up smooth transitions of blended metallics (just as you would with a non-metallic paints on a non-metallic area).

Classic GW 'Eavy Metal paintjob from the end of the 20th century.  This is what we all aspired to paint like.

Metallic paints had / have different painting characteristics to non-metallic paints.  They tended to dry very smooth and slick, so ink washes worked exceptionally well on them.  A rough slap dash of black wash of the right consistency would run right into the crevices of the model's detail in a very predictable manner.  But the drawback of metallic paints is that if you thinned out your paint too much, the body of the paint would quickly loose cohesion and you'd get very patchy results when it finally dried.

When light falls on a model painted with metallic paints, it reflects off the metallic pigments, and thus you have a realistic shine.  The manner in which ambient light hit the surface created the majority of the contrast our eyes and brains needed in order to read it as metal.  Straightforward and simple.  We didn't even call it "TMM" at the time, as it was pretty much the only way to paint metal areas (and "TMM" as we know it today is actually something very different to what I've just described... which I'll explain in a little bit).

So, life with metallics was good, right?  Well, we all thought so, until an upstart rogue French miniatures company came along and upset the balance of the Force.

Classic Rackham / Confrontation paintjob.  While the NMM looks a little flat by today's standards, it was mind blowing at the time.

Rackham had a miniatures game called, "Confrontation", and produced some of the most beautiful miniatures we'd ever seen up to that point (in my opinion, some sculpts still stand as some of the best... ever).  The proportions were different to what we'd seen up until then (no oversized hands and feet, and blades and wrists and ankles were not made chunkier to withstand the rigours of gaming like GW did at the time).  Stylistically, the sculpts were more akin to something in between Asian anime / manga and euro comic book art too.  And the miniatures had an almost ethereal flow to them... even though the models were static, the way the clothes draped and wrapped around the subjects gave the viewer the strong impression that the model was in caught in motion.

But what really blew our minds was the radically different approach to painting that the Rackham studio painters used.  It was as if they had no prior experience with traditional miniature painting methods, and instead took conventional and heavily stylized 2d canvas and comic book art techniques and training to the 3d models.  They really looked like the cover art of all the fantasy games and novels that had come before, especially when viewed in the pages of a magazine or on a computer screen.

Google "Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell" if you ever need a NMM reference.  Their 2D art features it in spades.

"NMM", or "Non Metallic Metallic" was the biggest challenge to traditional miniature painting.  I have no idea of how that term was even coined, or who was primarily responsible for coming up with it.  All I know is that the seemingly ridiculously contrary term gained immediate traction.  Seriously... calling something "Non Metallic Metallic" is like calling a veggie burger a "Non Meat Meat Patty".  It's not a particularly well thought out or elegant definition, yet it somehow gets the message across.

Still, as a snobby former English Lit student, I'd like to beat the guy who came up with "NMM".  Seriously buddy, WTF?

I'm not going to turn this article into a NMM tutorial, as there are plenty of those online, in print, on DVD, and on Youtube.  What I can do is define what it is (see above), and generally how it works.

The difference between NMM and simply painting something grey or brown (steel or gold / bronze) is maximizing contrast to simulate light reflection.  And precise and thoughtful placement of where your highlights and shades go is key. 

Maximizing contrast is the "easy" part, in a sense.  Any part painted in NMM will have pure matt black (or at least very close to it) as the lowest point of it's spectrum of colour, and pure white (or at least very close to it) as it's highest zenith.  Really the hardest part is being able to cram in every mid-tone inbetween, blending as smoothly as humanly possible to ensure no chunky transitions.

Where you place your highlights and shades is also a big part of maximizing contrast.  Every black point has to contact a white point.  Black against white are polar opposites, so your eyes read the contact between them as a sharp contrast.  So, instead of highlighting the peak of a bevelled sword dark to light, and then light to dark once you go over the edge of it, you would go dark to light, and then as soon as you cross the peak of the bevel, you'd go dark to light again so that the light part contacts the dark whenever possible.

Pic pulled off the Tutofig website. Fantastic example of how dark is carefully placed in direct contrast with light, and how smooth blending is key.

The painter can then add interest in the areas between the extremes.  While you may do various tones of grey to simulate steel, and tones of brown to yellow to simulate gold or bronze, you can also add subtle glazes of other colours too.  Blue works well when glazed into the shades of NMM steel, for example, as it simulates the blued effect of some metals.  If you're truly ambitious, you can glaze in a similar colour to the areas surrounding and facing the metal areas, to simulate the metallic surface's reflective properties (the "mirror finish|, so to speak).  If you really want to go '80s airbrush mural art style, you can even work on developing your "SENMM" (Sky Earth Non Metallic Metallic) where you simulate a chrome mirror finish, and the surrounding earth and sky horizon reflecting off of it.

Mini painters call this effect, "SENMM".  Normal people call this, "Chrome effect".  We mini painters are NOT normal people...

Gah, this is starting to turn into a tutorial article now, and I try to avoid those when possible.  Let's get back on track...

"TMM" or "True Metallic Metallics" as we know it now, came about years and years later after NMM started to lose its novelty and wow factor (not to say that it was any less impressive... just that it wasn't "novel" any more).  People were pushing the boundaries of NMM into ridiculous areas, just to impress the masses (SENMM being the most obvious example).  I definitely admire that drive to expand the horizons of miniature painting, but I was just so happy when TMM came along, as it truly was something unique to mini painting as an art form.

NMM may have been relatively new to mini painting, but it was well established in canvas and 2 dimensional art.  It's what people did since the first caveman started scratching drawings on the side of his man-cave.  It's in comic book art, it's in computer animation, it's in commercial art, and it's even in historical art.  You simply don't use metallic flake paint for those things, so you simulate the illusion of a metallic surface using NMM.

NMM looks fantastic in pics, as you are forced to view the model from the exact angle that the photographer chooses.  Thus it looks, "right" when viewed as intended (this is sometimes called, "forced perspective").  As it should be, as you are essentially viewing a 3 dimensional model in 2 dimensions.  However, the paintjob doesn't always look quite as good when viewed in person, as you are now able to view it in ways the painter never intended.

Think of it this way: What we build and paint are solid, three dimensional sculptures.  They can be viewed from all sorts of angles by your eye when held in your hand, sitting in a display case, or on the gaming table.  However, when you take a picture of it, and viewed on a computer screen or in print (a 2 dimensional surface), you have flattened that 3 dimensional model into a flat 2 dimensional impression of the original piece, much like a piece of canvas art or comic book page.  Thus, it only makes sense that a 2 dimensional painting technique "works" when you are viewing a model reduced to a 2D impression.

I'm sure Rackham knew this when they embraced NMM.  Most people around the world would never get a chance to see those models "live" and in person.  They would only see pictures of those models.  Of course those models would look very artistic and painterly, and evoke feelings and impressions of classic fantasy and comic book art... after all, they were painted using the same painting techniques used by those artists!

Of course, this is not to devalue NMM at all.  It's a damn hard technique to pull off (much easier once you've got the hang of it, but definitely difficult to master in the first place).  And it looks amazing... less so in person, but not by much.  It's still awe-inspiring to see a well done NMM piece in hand, but primarily because of the incredible and buttery smooth blending work involved, and the thought processes (care and attention) put into the model.

One of the most influential NMM works of all time, Darren Latham's Sanguinor.

And his NMM has only gotten better over time, as evidenced by this WIP Stormcast.

I think anyone who is still reading this article by now, and hasn't yet quit and started surfing pics of Megan Fox by now will start to get the feeling that I'm more of a TMM man (and more of a fan of Kate Beckinsale too).  I definitely don't hate NMM... I just think that TMM is a bit more versatile, as it looks slightly better in person (in my opinion).

Did someone mention Kate Beckinsale??

So what is "True Metallic Metallic" anyway?  Well, put simply, it's very nearly the same as NMM, only done with metallic pigmented paints.

Whaaaaa???  How the heck does that work?

Well, you have the extreme contrasts of NMM, but with the real shine and reflection (and not JUST the impression of it) of a real metallic surface afforded by using micro-metallic flake paint.  You still have to put some thought into placement of your highlights and shading, in order to ensure that the extremes butt up against each other for maximized contrast.  However, you can also play with the contrast of shine vs dull, by making sure your dark areas have little to no reflection (a matt glaze of black or other shade colour usually works for this).

A quick Google search pulled up this pic.  It perfectly illustrates the use of NMM techniques with "true" metallic paints, to achieve fantastic TMM.

With the latest generation of quality metallic paints, the metallic flakes are ground so fine as to be nearly imperceptible as grains, thus giving the dried paintjob a smooth shiny finish.  When carefully blended (as opposed to coarsely layered or haphazardly drybrushed on), they give a really nice, fairly realistic result that is still just as "artistic" and "painterly" as NMM.

TMM : Combining shine AND contrast!

You can also apply coloured glazes to TMM to simulate reflection, just as you would with NMM.  You can imply rust, dents, wear, bluing, chrome, etc, just as effectively as you would with NMM, but it requires additional work (just like you would with NMM).  

The problem with TMM is that the term encompasses just about every approach to painting with metallic paints... the good and the bad.  When done carefully, with all the same attention and thought as most NMM paintjobs, it's a thing of wonder.  When slapped on like house paint, sprayed on from a rattle can, or drybrushed on with a large drybrush, it's damn ugly. The end effect is overly reliant on the natural shine of the metallic pigments in order to achieve contrast, and many people dislike TMM for this reason... badly done and with little control, the effect is left to chance.

Painted back in the same decade that brought us piano-key skinny leather ties, and Samantha Fox singing, "Boom boom boom, let's go up to my room...", I guess this would be a good example of me executing what could technically be called, "TMM", before I knew any better.

Control is also marginally more difficult with metallic paints.  If you thin them too much, the metallic pigments have a hard time binding together, and the paint "breaks".  I find that mixing a tiny bit of medium in helps with this, but there are still limits to how far you can push a metallic paint.

Lastly, photographing TMM is not as straightforward as taking pics of NMM models.  With NMM, you know which angles are the best to photograph from, and light does not bounce off the model in unpredictable ways.  With TMM, the lighting used will actually reflect off the model, creating contrasts and shine that may be picked up by the camera in ways the human eye wouldn't.  Luckily with digital photography, you can simply take multiple pics from different angles, and discard the pics that didn't turn out as well as you liked.

So, which approach do I personally prefer?

At the moment, it's TMM.  I believe that with the right amount of thought and technique applied, TMM has many of the same characteristics of NMM (contrast is precisely controlled, and the effects are planned), but more accurately resemble METAL when viewed in person.  It's not an "artistic interpretation" of what metal should look like, but rather, it IS metal... a form of metallic medium, in any case.

I'm not as concerned with the piece looking good on a computer screen or in the pages of a publication.  Most of my models are meant to be appreciated in person, by the human eye.  I paint for competition, where the judge will see the model for themselves, and I have no control over which angle he/she looks at the piece.  I also paint to play with the models, and the angle and distance you view the models is nothing like the angle and lighting conditions under which models are photographed.

I'm kind of simplifying things a bit when I contend that NMM is better for photography, and TMM is better in person.  Generally, this is true, but there are many examples of NMM models that look fantastic in person, and TMM models that look fantastic in photos.  Try both methods for yourself, and see which works better for you.  But I urge you to master both techniques, as the skills and techniques involved in both easily transfer over to other areas of your painting, and will make you a stronger painter overall.

Plus, that way you will have two tools in your tool chest of skills, rather than just the one.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Bottlecaps as Painting Tools: Not Just for Fallout Any More...

It seems like all my gaming buddies are talking about Fallout 4, all the time.  While I haven't succumbed to the urge yet (heck, I haven't even replaced my XBox 360 and PS3 for the latest versions, and my PC would probably struggle to run Donkey Kong or Pac Man), I fondly remember collecting bottle caps as currency in the earlier versions of the game.

Thinking about Fallout inspired me to do a quick writeup about one of my favourite painting tools, the humble bottle cap.  While not a hardcore drinker by any stretch of the imagination, I do enjoy a good craft brewed beer with dinner every so often.  While I started drinking beer back in my university days (really crappy mass brewed stuff... Budweiser, Molson Canadian, and Molson Dry mostly), when the craft beer scene started taking off locally in the late '90s, I started expanding my drinking range, and found myself actually enjoying beer for its own sake, rather than just as a social lubricant.  My business partner in Sorcerer Studios (my old miniature painting studio) and I would often each nurse a bottle of the good stuff on particularly long work days (a nice light hefeweizen during a hot summer day, or a rich dark porter or stout on a cold winter day), and when my brother-in-law became a brewmaster, that pretty much cemented my appreciation of quality beers (he even had a beer named after him).

And so, returning to the topic of bottlecaps and how they relate to painting, I seem to have plenty of them at hand whenever I need them.  Granted, some are dented or warped a tiny bit from prying them off the neck of the bottle, but they are still perfectly serviceable.  People who drink beers from a can may not have a good supply of them, but they don't have any taste to begin with in my opinion (beer from a can tastes like licking the inside of a metal pipe... it's shit.  Craft brewers know this, which is why quality beers are not sold in cans).

So how do you use a bottlecap for painting?  The most common use that I've found for them is as a throwaway painting palette.

Have you ever seen the type of dry painting palette that has spoon-like divots in it? 

They are there to contain runny paints, and keep them from trying to get nasty with your other colours.  If I'm mixing watery inks, glazes, and washes, I may grab a bottlecap and mix my colours inside one.  Once it's done, I toss the cap.

I also use it for mixing oil paints.  Thinning oil paints to find just the right consistency requires mixing it with some sort of thinner (linseed oil, as an example).  It comes from tubes in a consistency thicker than toothpaste, which sucks for painting miniatures.  Mix in a little linseed oil, and you've got yourself something you can work with.  After I'm done with that colour, I toss the cap.

Bottlecaps are also great for "portion control" of glues, mediums, and other liquid substances.  When basing, I often squeeze a bit of white glue into a bottlecap, and then use a dropper to add some water to it.  Swirl a ratty old brush in there to mix it up and thin it to the exact consistency that you're looking for, and simply toss the cap away afterwards.

I've mixed up modelling snow in them (usually either baking soda or Secret Weapon crushed glass and clear resin water effects).  I've filled them like tiny cups with liquid brush cleaner and swirled my brushes in them to get all the old paint residue off them.  Thinning brush on primer or brush on clearcoat can be accomplished inside a cap.  I've also mixed plaster in them, and other modelling mediums too.

In fact, for just about anything you want to use, but you figure is best to keep away from the paints on your regular palette (dry or wet), I suggest using an upturned bottlecap.  Disposable AND renewable (so long as you enjoy good beer), what's not to like?

On a similar note, perhaps I should write a companion article regarding the many uses of wine bottle corks in miniature painting.  Nah... better not.  People might think I'm a lush that spends more time drinking than painting...