Monday, September 29, 2014

Warhammer Fantasy: Making a Better Vargheist!

As a background project and change of pace from my usual hobby projects, I've been slowly working on a Vampire Counts Undead Army for Warhammer.  With the release of Nagash and the End Times supplement from GW it seemed like a great time to make efforts in earnest to get my Undead Army ready to take the field of battle.

I knew I wanted a unit of Vargheists, as they offer some much needed mobility to the largely ponderous and slow moving undead army.  While I love the battlefield options provided by the Vargheists, I didn't care for the GW models at all.   I find the bat-like faces to be silly and not at all in keeping with the overall bestial aesthetic.

I looked on-line for acceptable substitute models, but nothing I could find was readily available or available at a reasonable price. As a final attempt, I reviewed the Vampire Counts army book to see if the flavor text would inspire me to look in a new direction.  Once there I was shocked to see that in the art work the derpy bat-like heads presented on the GW models were represented with savage, distorted animalistic faces. 
As it turns out, the Dire Wolves' heads which are stylistically similar to the artwork presented in the army book.  What is more, these head bits were relatively inexpensive from an online bits store.  With a little bit of rotary tool work to sand away a good portion of the mane for the Dire Wolves, they made for a relatively seamless fit onto the Vargheists' bodies. 

At this point all that was left to do was to green stuff in the hair to fill in the gap around the heads, add the wings, and throw on some paint on the models.  For me, the final result better reflected the bestial nature of the art work and made for a natural tie in with the other more animal-like GW undead models such as the Varghulf and, of course, Dire Wolves.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Airbrush guide Pt.1

The airbrush can be an invaluable tool for hobbyists, but it’s easy to forget that it’s part of a larger system. While airbrush recommendations and theory can be found on most of the hobby sites, the rest of the system seems to be the subject of some neglect. I’d like to focus on the basics and how to select your first (or perhaps an upgraded) compressor. I’ll talk about airbrushes and advanced theory in a later post if there's interest, but for now let’s focus on what has been clearly neglected in most airbrush starter guides: The Compressor. I’ll explain what elements you’ll want to have on a compressor and why, then show a comparison between a bargain model and a premium kit.

Also a quick disclaimer just in case google kicked you out here on an airbrush search: This guide assumes that you’re working on painting miniatures, and as such will be needing a degree of precision and operating at lower psi. If you’re painting automobiles or doing spray-tans in your garage, you can probably get away with other solutions.

Let’s get started, the first element is the Compressor.

This is simply the pump that is pushing air towards your airbrush. Already we run into the first problem: almost all pump mechanisms pump in pulses as they recharge and discharge the air into the system. While this isn’t a problem for most tools, your airbrush will be negatively affected by uneven airflow. This has to do with the physical properties of liquids and their resistance to being compressed. As pressure pulses along your hose line to your airbrush, the rate at which you aerosolize your paint will vary accordingly. Long story short: you’re going to be seeing some splatter that you wouldn’t normally have with even airflow.
There are some advanced piston pumps that can provide nearly even flow, but they’re expensive and even they will be a poor substitute for an air reservoir/tank.

To get around the uneven flow of air we need to add an Air Tank to our system. By collecting the air that the pump is pushing, and holding it in a larger reservoir, we can flow off of that tank without getting the repeated pulse of pressure that the pump will be creating. This also has some other benefits of reducing noise (the pump won’t be running the entire time you’re spraying) and extending the pump’s life by giving the motor a break in-between tank fills.

Rounding off our shopping list of stuff that needs to be in-line before the air gets to the airbrush are a Regulator and a Moisture Trap. Different paints and applications will work best at different psi’s, a regulator will allow you to flow off of your tank at the psi you set it to. Without one you’ll be flowing at whatever PSI happens to be coming out of your pump or is in the tank at that time which will be way too much.

Your pump will be compressing air that it’s sucking out of the room it’s in, and that air will have some humidity, which means a risk of water in your air line. The airbrush is designed to add paint to a pressurized flow of air and aerosolize it. When a drop of water comes through instead of that air then you get splatter.
Both the regulator and moisture trap are usually built into the compressor, but even if they’re not, you can buy them as accessories and attach them inline to your compressor.

With those basic four elements you’re on your way to good airbrushing, but a quick look at your options on the market will show some dramatic range in prices. What do you get for spending more money on a compressor?

It could be a lot of things; larger air tanks, faster, higher quality, quieter, and stronger air pumps that could potentially power multiple brushes.
It could also be purely cosmetic, a fancy cowling for the compressor, or a carrying handle, or perhaps cup holders?

So enough theory, how do your actually select a compressor that’s right for your needs?
By taking a close look at the stats that are (usually) listed for the compressors you’re looking at. 
For example if noise is a problem, find out at what db range the compressor operates at. Keep in mind that your refrigerator operates at roughly 40db and a normal conversation will be roughly 60db. The db scale is logarithmic and for every 10 points the sound increases the sound will be 10 times louder. ‘Silent compressors’ should be around 55db or below, but expect to pay a lot more for the quiet.

One last example before I move on: 
In one corner we have the entry-level compressor that has the four basic elements that I’ve covered above, in the other corner we have a similar compressor from Grex.

The Grex compressor has an MSRP of $239 but you can find it for around $180 (at the time of writing). The TCP sells for 99$ so roughly half the price.

                     TCP                 Grex

Price              $99                  $244
HP                 1/5                   1/8
Displacement  25L/min            20L/min 
Noise              59db                55db
Weight            11.5lbs             11lbs
Tank size        3.5L                 Auto-on/off (No tank)

So if I was a hobbyist on a budget, I think I’d go for the TCP compressor, it’s cheaper and superior or comparable in almost all of the listed stats.

There are also other factors to consider that aren’t so easily represented in numbers; such as where the product was manufactured, and the quality of the components.  I can’t say if a premium brand will outlast the bargain model, but I think it’s safe to say that the bargain unit is made of the cheapest parts available.

I’d also like to say that I’m not targeting Grex as being a poor choice for your airbrushing needs. I've heard good things about Grex and I think my next airbrush purchase will be a Grex XGi.

I want to touch on two alternative solutions before I sign off, shop compressors and compressed gas.

Is your hobby area in a place with one of those monster shop compressors for power tools? Great, just get some adapters and attach the regulator and moisture trap to the tank and you're good to go. Once it stops rattling the walls and the tank fills, you'll have air for days.

Another solution is to get an air tank with compressed gas, and hook your regulator to that. It has the advantage of being silent when you're using it, and you can fill it with dry air (avialable from welding or beverage supply companies) so you won't have problems with moisture.

I hope that helps those who are looking for a new setup, or wanted to upgrade their current compressor. Even the greatest airbrush in the world will still perform poorly without a solid compressor setup.

Mike M (cornumortem)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Make your Battle Photography in ART

I have been using this free app from Google called Snapseed to edit my game photos and make them more dramatic. The software was originally written by a company call NIK software, and they were the leader in filters in professional photography (my job) until Google bought them. The free app is a simplified version of the original hi end software, but it is amazing nonetheless and FAR outperforms Instagram or other competitors. The nice thing about Snapseed is that you don't need to be online to edit stuff and it doesn't downsize your file.

The filters lend itself really well to battle games photography like 40K and Bolt Action. Below I created some before and afters to get you all excited

It's hard to keep the store stuff out of images when you are playing. Doors, shelves, peoples hands and all that stuff gets in the way of a dramatic image. The image below looked good but I didn't like the die, so I cropped the image. Since the vantage point was a bit high, I imagined a drone or other remote camera taking this shot - i added a bunch of grain and blew out details.

Here's a good example of pesty shelves getting in the way. I darkened the top, which, surprisingly, made it look like the cathedral was on fire...even better!
Another battle scene. Notice my friend Glenn on the left top with his coke. Snapseed cannot remove things, so the coke can stayed in but by darkening and filtering, Glenn pretty much disappeared. I gave this a blueish cast and darkened it a lot. There are so many cool filters in this app, the sky is the limit. 

My buddy Christian needed to be removed and I wanted to give this image a rough, close combat look. Snapseed allows you to add textures, so the image become gritty and powerful and a horizontal crop did the rest.

Here I made the game table into a 40k waste zone with leaking oil pipes and stained surfaces. Snapseed let's you control contrast, shadow detail, color filters and much more.

Here's an image that I ran through the Grunge filter. It adds artifacts (you choose) and made it look brutal. Of course you have to find that fun perspective. In this case I used the perspective of the marine facing a massive chaos hellbrute.

Here's a squad of German soldiers in desert outfits for Bolt Action, SC John painted it up last week. You can see the store in the background. After fixing it the curves of the building almost look like some North African building. Cropping is crucial!

AND YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE A PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER TO DO THIS. You will need to be creative with your angles - all these images were shot on an iphone

Snapseed is available in the Itunes store and in Google Play. Hope this inspires!

SC Mike

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A (re) Start of Santa Cruz Warhammer! We are back!

Santa Cruz Warhammer is back! After a cooling period of a couple of years, SC John and myself are inspired again to share our modeling projects with all of your and inspire each other to keep at it. We have never lost the love for the hobby and we have painted up countless models in the interim, just not really shown them off to the wider world. 
We have revamped the blog layout a bit AND created a NEW LOGO and we have plenty ideas for the foreseeable future, like a 1000 point mirrorlist project for 40K, a recreation of the original 100 space marine chapters, with 100 marines being painted up, loads of terrain and basing tips and tutorials and many many more things.
We also have been lucky to have added two really talented modelers to the group: Pezman and Mike M. Below is a little bio with some work of both of them; really creative minds with loads of skills.

My love affair with toy soldiers began in the eighties when I was still very young.  One of my brothers came back from a sleepover at a friend's house with a box of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons figures from Grenadier. 
  The single mold, broccoli based miniatures immediately captured my imagination as they gave physical form to the heroes and creatures that had only existed as stories before. 

  As the years passed, my love of  toy soldiers wax and waned with the fads of the time. Until, in the very early 90's, a perfect storm of hobby swept me away and set me on a path which would capture my imagination forever.  A friend at school was reading a magazine in our home room class that had pictures of some orks carrying what looked to me some incredibly powerful guns.  Wait, orks with guns!? That was something I'd never seen before. The art and colors were vibrant and when I got a chance to flip through the magazine I was captivated by the incredible figurines I saw painted on those glossy pages.
  Also contained within was an advertisement for a game which blended my love of fantasy figures with my other love, American Football.  The magazine was of course White Dwarf, and the game was Blood Bowl.  I was hooked.  I was even more thrilled to find that this company was British which gave it an air of validity (Tolkien being British too… hey, I was 12), but at the same time disappointed to realize I wouldn't be seeing Blood Bowl in a local store anytime soon.  However, around that same time I was able to get my hands on a copy of Milton Bradley's Hero's Quest, and I feverishly set about learning the rules, myths, and images that surrounded these figures. 
 A year or two later I was able to get a copy of Blood Bowl which included a thin, light blue pamphlet titled "How to Paint Citadel Miniatures" (I still own it).  The instructions in that pamphlet inspired me to grab some of my mother's craft paints to see if I could imitate what I had seen in White Dwarf and the Hero's Quest box. 25 years later, I have multiple armies of painted figures painted for multiple game systems, and still get just as inspired by an amazing miniature sculpture of a hero or villain as I ever have.
  Over the years, I've had the good fortune to be inspired by some amazing hobbyists, and learned a lot of techniques; but at the heart of it I'm still trying to give life to the little toy soldiers which captured my imagination so long ago.

Mike M (cornumortem)

My exposure to this hobby started with a copy of rogue trader. At the time my adolescent brain did not have the patience necessary to wade through that mess of a game, but I knew that I had discovered something special.
 After scraping together a collection of miniatures and several failed attempts at painting them, I put it all aside to pursue other (equally-dorky) hobbies; all the while continuing to consume 40k through less obtuse routes, like the novels and video games. 
Years later Al Gore invented the internet, and through exposure to hobby blogs and youtube tutorials I decided to give it another shot. It's been a rewarding hobby so far, though a busy schedule means that I'm able to sneak a few hours of painting in far more often than the time it takes to get actual tabletop games in. 

There you have it! John and I are super stoked to have added to really talented painters to the SCWH mix and all four of us are excited to inspire each other and you readers!

SC Mike