Saturday, 19 May 2018

Night Lords Cultists

The main thrust of my Night Lords collection is going to be Heresy-era Marines. Why, then, would I start monkeying around with a bunch of Cultists?

Two reasons - first, the army will also be used for 40K, Kill Team and Necromunda (where, thanks to an excellent White Dwarf article, you can now field Chaos Cultists). Cultists play a big part in these systems and are good value as disposable troops who can sit on an objective or bog down opponents. Second, the Night Lords novels introduce some fantastic Legion-serf characters who are great inspiration for Cultist conversions.

So let me introduce to you (from left to right) Some Dude, Septumus, Octavia, Hound and Maruc.

The novels' characters served more as inspiration so there are little nods to them here and there. Like Hound's diminutive stature and his shotgun and Septimus' bionic eye. Some Dude wears a Drukhari Scourge helmet which harks back to the Bleeding Eyes Raptor units in the novels, who are portrayed as very bird-like with some disgusting avian habits.

The stand out model for me is Octavia the Navigatrix. She will represent the Witch who supports the Chaos Cult gang in games of Necromunda. I eventually settled on a weird diving-bell helmet rather than trying to sculpt on her third eye (or the bandanna she uses to conceal it). I also added her pony tail of black hair, which in the novels gets increasingly more 'ratty' as the haughty noble spends time in the service of the Legion. Below are some WIP shots of her.

Given my Marines will be dull metallic blue, I needed a matt solution for the Cultists' dark robes. The black highlighted with blue gives a real 'midnight' feel. I might roll this out elsewhere in the collection too. Amusingly, the combo of blue-black and red makes these guys feel a bit like old-skool Cawdor gangers.

Next up, more Cultists. Or some Heresy Marines. Or some Spawn. Depending on what I finish first.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Ask yourself: Have I got the budget for demons?

When is it best to put your demons on screen? When you've got a budget to do them properly, that's when.

M.R. James' tale Casting the Runes has an enduring appeal as one of his best tales, and rightly so. Published in 1911 it has all the classic elements of British gothic horror - an eccentric and malevolent antagonist living in an old abbey, runic death cards, unexplained events all topped-off by a rather nasty bit of supernatural payback. It has been adapted several times for the screen, the best of which is undoubtedly the 1957 film Night of the Demon directed by Jacques Tourneur. Tenebrous Kate has just posted a brilliant critical appraisal of this cinematic masterpiece. So I'm going to talk about it's slightly more rubbish cousin.

The BBC worked its way through many of James' tales in its excellent Ghost Story for Christmas series which ran throughout the 1970s (and was more recently resurrected). Perhaps because of the success of Demon they decided not to adapt Runes. Thus it was the rival channel ITV that brought the tale to the small screens in 1979 with the help of Lawrence Gordon Clark (who had worked extensively on the BBC's series). And he proved the BBC's caution justified.

Clark's version is laudably progressive but, ultimately, a hot mess of a show. He transposes the action to a modern-day big city and reenvisions the protagonist as a female journalist. It starts strong with beaucolic shots of the British rural landscape in snow and the first killing is quite horrible. He works in a bit of giant-insect horror to good effect. This harks back to a scene in the short story where a group of children are terrified by the antagonist, but also references some of James' best tales which put giant spiders or sawflies to good use. However, the show loses its momentum and falls apart in the second half thanks to poor pacing and the heroine's agency diminishing. The opportunities James' interesting antagonist Karswell provides are largely wasted (in stark contrast to Niall MacGinnis' amazing turn in the 1957 film). My main issue, though, is the rather unpalatable ending which implies that several hundred innocents die as part of the revenge on Karswell. This leaves an unpleasant taste and makes you kind of wish the giant spider had had its way with the heroine in Act 1.

All told, pretty much the only way Clark's version triumphs over Tourneur's is with its depiction of the titular demon. Clark keeps the beast off camera for the most part, and the few instances we see it are so well composed or shot that the thing is really quite unsettling. By contrast, a rather wonky rubber puppet is universally agreed to be the biggest let down in Tourneur's otherwise impeccable film. It's a lesson put to excellent use later in movies like Alien, Jaws and The Exorcist.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Night Lords Hellbrute

Welcome to another Night Lords shindig!

Tonight's special guest is a Hellbrute from the Dark Vengeance boxed set. This guy was another colour test of sorts as I wanted to see how best to treat large areas of (mutated) flesh. He was also an experiment in trying to paint faster. In fact, he was pained from head to toe (and yes, he does have toes if you look carefully) in one weekend. I tried not to get bogged down in details. Although a lot of the flesh highlighting is impressionistic I'm pretty pleased with the result.

Originally I had intended not to convert him, but that pledge to myself was swiftly forgotten when I discovered some Tyranid wings in my bits box. And a dread abyssal head. And a few other undead bits. These additions give him a bat-like appearance which ties him more closely to the Night Lords. Truth be told, I feel the head is a bit too big (and makes his weapons feel small), but the overall result is quite pleasing.

Next up, some Cultists.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Night Lords' Atramentar

This is the story of a lonely Chaos Space Marine Sorcerer.

The fellow had been languishing in my bits box for years. I figured he'd work nicely as the first 'proper' miniature for my nascent Night Lords collection. Accordingly I dug him out, converted him a little and 'hey presto!' I had one angry elite to act as a commander.


For those not born on Nostromo, 'Atramentar' is the term the Night Lords use for members of their First Company. They therefore have a big wardrobe full of Terminator armour, and this guy has clearly been rummaging around in that same closet. Thankfully he's out now.

I evolved the painting technique a bit from the tester I had previously done. I wanted to simplify the process slightly as I was going to be rolling it out over a large number of models. I was particularly pleased with the overall colourway mix. I like the way the red really vibrates against the semi-metallic blue, and the bone really pops. I used Forge World pigments on the base, and the ochres contrast nicely against the predominantly cooler model. I bought the Forge World Night Lords decals and added a little highlighting to the reds and bone to just lift it a bit.

Next up: a very ugly Hellbrute.


Saturday, 21 April 2018

Night Lords

I've had a hankering to do some Chaos Space Marines for some time, and the imminent return of Kill Team is a great reason to start small, and build from there.

I chose Night Lords. I've been reading the Dembsi-Bowden novels and I can't recommend them highly enough. They are a wonderful source of inspiration and a fascinating portrait of a Legion descending into heresy (they admittedly start on some pretty shaky ground). As a First Founding Legion they also give you the opportunity to mix in Heresy plate, and the Night Lords' colourway remains pretty consistent pre and post Heresy. They feel very '40K' with their 80s-heavy-metal aesthetic of skulls, bat wings and lightning. Plus they'll make a nice contrast to my more heraldic, red-or-bled Blood Angels, who are the antagonists in one of the novels.

Image result for night lords novels

Full of excitement, my first step is to do lots of visual research. I try to find examples of great paint schemes for that army and look for new twists I can put on the subject. You can see the results below. I also talk to anyone who collects that army, and Mr Will Hayes from Forge World was very gracious to tell me about his beautiful Night Lords collection.

The next step is colour tests. The Citadel push-fit CSMs are great for this, they require very little build time. I'm always keen to try as many techniques as possible at this stage and 'go wide' in my experiments. I'll vary washes, choose different colour mixes and try to cover as many bases as possible (pun intended). I write down which paints I used for future reference. Here are the three resulting miniatures.

One of the challenges with Night Lords is to avoid them becoming too garish. The lightning pattern can be quite distracting so I was keen to keep this subtle. Hence it has become something more akin to a crackle texture rather than very obvious graffiti (besides, some of the lore implies the lightning is not simply a design painted on to their armour, but a reactive substrate that 'crackles'). I experimented with making it more of a graphic pattern too. This worked OK but would need to be knocked-back a lot I feel. I think using it sparingly on infiltrators would be cool. Plus I'm fond of camouflaged tanks for Marines, so if I ever get around to doing a vehicle it could become the machine's camo pattern.

In the end I plumped for the paint recipe of the guy in the middle with a few variations. I feel his red horns are a little too bright.

Next stop - the first 'proper' mini.


Monday, 16 April 2018

The camouflage of consumption

This is a story of things being hidden, then revealed, only to be hidden again.

I'm fascinated by camouflage and its varied forms, from natural occurrences to anti-recognition technology. Over the past decade I had noticed the (literal) rise of massive warehouses in the British countryside, often coated in gradated cladding that mimicks the sky or dappled to blend in to the landscape. This post has been prompted by a great article which delves into the recent history of these structures. I want to explore the camouflage aspect which the author touches on a little more.

 Photograph: Adrian Toon from The Guardian aricle

The structures in question are distribution centres. They serve our modern desire to Have It Now. They act as massive centralised storage depos for goods which are bought online or sent 'just in time' to stores that are now smaller due to rising rents and failing town centres. In his article Rowan Moore explores the way that these 'sheds', as he calls them, are the internet made manifest. In our attempt to strip down our lives and apply Lean methods to our domestics we have outsourced the storage to corporations. In turn these businesses have, some might say, 'infiltrated' our countryside with their sheds. They are the internet made manifest. Code given physical form.

His article is wide-ranging and touches on the 'synthetic' camouflage applied to their exteriors.  There is a cycle at work here. The invisible ones and zeroes of our digital lives are coalescing into giant Minecraft-esque cubes, which designers then try to conceal by blurring the giant boxes into the landscape using visual crypsis. In the same way as a moth uses camouflage to extend the cycle of life, the sheds are doing the same (in their case death comes from protesters who will frustrate planning permissions). I am also reminded of Plato's Cave. In The Republic the philosopher asks us to imagine a cave in which prisoners are shackled facing a blank wall. Objects are paraded out of their vision so that the items' shadows fall into the wall thanks to the light of a fire. The prisoners' reality is that of these blurry shadows. They have no knowledge of the real objects, or the world outside. The giant blurry boxes lurking in our countryside, softened by their digitally designed camouflage, are the shadows of our own rampant consumerism.

  Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo from The Guardian aricle

I was struck by their resemblance of these distribution centres to the work of sci-fi artists in the 70s and particularly the work of Colin Hay. The vogue of the era was to paint enormous structures composed of Brutalist angles coated with exotic camouflage or decoration. While contemporaries like Chris Foss opted for more garish, industrial paint schemes (often featuring the hazard warning combination of black and yellow), Hay explores more sombre tones harking back to Luftwaffe camouflage. His sea-green and duck-egg-blue architecture looms out of the landscapes in which they sit, much as the Morrisons’ Bridgwater centre emerges from the Somerset hills.

As someone who spends a lot of time in the (grim dark) future, I am prompted to ask myself; what can we expect the future to hold for these sheds? How might camouflage be involved?

Perhaps anxieties over planning permission will force these sheds to become mobile? As vast, peripatetic structures, they might resemble something between the 'wagon trains' of Patrick Tilley's The Amtrak Wars and the 'walking cities' imagined by architect Ron Herron in the 1960s. Their camouflage could veer away from visual crypsis, to mimesis or, if their pace were quick enough, motion dazzle. As a mimetic structure they could be made to resemble the giant saurians of the Mesozoic era - vast, thick-legged beasts with long, craning necks. Were the death toll from fear-induced heart attacks too great, designers could paint them in zebra-like motion dazzle. Viewers would never be quite sure if the sheds were approaching, or receding. Or coming back for another strafing run of Amazon deliveries.

One of Ron Herron's drawings of the 'Walking City', 1964

Moore finishes his article by saying, "The contrast between what was previously thought of as natural and urban landscape will only become more stark." I would go so far as to say, that "The contrast between what was previously thought of as unnatural will only become more stark."