A new D&D adventure comes out on April 7th, pitting players against the forces of elemental evil in "Princes of the Apocalypse." Gale Force Nine gave us an exclusive look at the process of creating the miniatures being released to accompany the adventure, from concept art to completed mini.
Gale Force Nine will be releasing one elemental cult a month from April to June. The plastic minis come unpainted and do require some assembly. GF9 Creative Manager Matt Parkes walked us through the entire process:
Matt Parkes: Working closely with the Wizards RPG team, the start of a new series of adventures like the "Princes of the Apocalypse" will mean I receive something very special in my mailbox, a story bible. This confidential document outlines the themes, story-arc and style of what's to come and includes very detailed concept artwork. After digesting this awesomeness, the D&D team at GF9 sit down and decide what miniature releases will complement the adventure series. For this "Temple of Elemental Evil" adventure we are releasing the four elemental Myrmidons in individual box sets and each elemental cult prophet and priest, two figure sets.
Before anything is sculpted, part of my job is to write the sculpting briefs. This will include the artwork above, main characteristics and any details relevant for the sculptor.
From this document, we sit down as a team and decide what the miniature will be doing; the pose, any specific details and the scenic base theme. This normally involves one of us in the office pulling poses with swords and brooms. Anyone walking in would think we are a bit mad! After the basics have been decided, one of us will draw a pose. In this case with Aerisi, the artwork is so evocative [pictured above], that we decided to go with the pose provided.
The next stage is to scale the miniature correctly. This is very important when producing large ranges of different miniatures. We use accurate height charts provided by the RPG team.
In Aerisi's case the artwork was shrunk to 1:1 scale and a wire armature made. Armatures are 3D sketches of the model, with the height and limbs measured. Every sculptor keeps records of each sculpt and measurements, building up a library of the different subjects.
Using clay or "green stuff" (a two-part plumbers putty) the armatures are then bulked up to represent the anatomy, in this case the female elf Air Prophet, Aerisi Kalinoth.
Every stage is checked thoroughly for scale; as a mistake at this stage will affect the final sculpt, resulting in re-works and changes, which can be costly and time-consuming.
The fabric drapery layers are started to be added along with her main facial features.
Aerisi's wings are another prominent feature. As they are quite large, a putty former is cut out and roughly posed, this is then baked at low temperature, making the putty very hard, allowing fine-tuning ready for the top layer of feather details.
At this stage the wings are test fitted on her back, so the sculptor can construct the actual wing fitting. This has to be very precise, as any "give" will mean the wings are not sitting correctly as the sculptor intends them to appear.
As the miniature is near completion, we have to make her fly. Clear plastic flying bases are an industry standard, for this figure we are only going to use the stem as the base will be the usual scenic resin one that we have used throughout the whole Dungeons and Dragons miniature range.
This is where we have to get our engineering hats on and work out how to fix this without compromising the detail or any of the parts.
This drawing is the starting point of the solution. The sculptor can then refine it on the figure; the end result is something close to this, with the flying stand locked into place without any movement.
The miniature is given one final check and it is ready for the approval process with the Wizards RPG team.
The approvals document is very important, as it is the final sculpt and has to show all aspects and details. The miniature is photographed at every angle following the compass points and close-ups of the face and weapon. This document is not overly bright, as this would wash any of the subtleties of this sculpt away — having shadows creates a more 3D image.
For Aerisi's approval, a breakdown of the miniature and the box contents were also included.
Now the Wizards RPG team can closely look at Aerisi to make sure it is like the character and that all the details are correct. In her case, the RPG team felt that her thighs appeared too short and her headband jewelery was not quite right. This forwards and backwards process is a common thing with miniature sculpting; the end result is a better figure and one that everyone is happy with.
To make the changes very clear, before and after images are in the document, grey colored putty was used for the changes to lengthen her thighs.
This image is passed back to the Wizards RPG team and is now approved.
Thanks, Matt! Now check out this gallery of "Princes of the Apocalypse" monsters and characters at various stages of the production process.