Monday, 19 January 2015

Return of the Mighty Avenger: A second interview with Bryan Ansell


1,000,000 page views, more than that now you are reading this post, deserves some sort of recognition. And what better than a second chat with the man behind it all, Bryan Ansell, the visionary responsible for Citadel's early days and owner of the Wargames Foundry and Stoke Hall. 

Unless you are new to this blog, you will know that I have been carrying out a series of interviews with many of the creative minds behind the massive success of Warhammer in the 1980s. Artists such as Gary Chalk, Tony Ackland and Tony Hough have discussed their work and influences, we have heard from members of the 'Eavy Metal team via Andy Craig and the man who ran them, Phil Lewis. Design Studio stalwarts Rick Priestley, Mike Brunton, Andy Chambers, Tim Pollard, Paul Cockburn, Phil Gallagher and Graeme Davis have provided us with the behind the scenes detail that many of us find so fascinating. Kev 'Goblinmaster' Adams shared his stories about life as a miniature sculptor during the period, Jamie Sims spoke to us about the Asgard Days while Guy Carpenter provided us with lots of insight to life in the retail part of the business. 

Its been quite a journey... are you ready to go on one more?

I have been lucky enough to meet Bryan a few times, and I have been luckier still to get a bit of a guided tour of his stately home - including the enormous cabinets of his miniature collection and the incredible room with the painted Wayne England murals. To walk through those corridors and gaze in wonderment at objects you have studied for over twenty-five years is a peculiar experience I can tell you. Last summer, I had the opportunity to speak to Bryan again in detail about his time running Games Workshop and this interview is the result of those discussions. 

I have been saving it for a special occasion! 

Issue 77 of White Dwarf and the last of the London regime 
The infamous contents page. Can you see the it?
RoC80s: For many, many years one of the more infamous things associated with your tenure in charge was the 'SOD OFF BRYAN ANSELL'  in White Dwarf issue 77. Care to share your side of the story?

BA: When I took over running games workshop all those years ago, the first priority was to close down the London office.  All they did was publish White Dwarf, distribute imported American products and complain that Warhammer was puerile. We had taken over all other publishing duties at Citadel some time earlier. Space was expensive in London and Games Workshop was extraordinarily overstaffed. However, things were moving along nicely in Eastwood and at the Nottingham Studio and we felt that we would be able to find useful work in Nottinghamshire for any or all of the London staff who wanted to move.

In the event: ten or so of the London staff came to us.

The White Dwarf staff didn’t move up.  This wasn’t entirely a surprise, as they had savagely resisted our attempts to put Warhammer material into WD.  Despite the quite obvious fact that the only thing keeping Games Workshop rolling was our awful fantasy battle game. I suppose that “sod off ” is the sophisticated London gamers equivalent of “thanks very much for the offer: but we’re going to have to pass this time.”

Unfortunately, we did have to fire a number of the ex-London staff for stealing not long after they joined us. Mac Coxhead was in charge of one half of the factory shop floor at the time, and would randomly check departing staff for hidden lead with his metal detector. However, we did gain the services of Jervis Johnson and Lindsey to de la Doux Paton: both of whom were to contribute greatly to Games Workshop’s future. 

 Lindsey is now married to Rick Priestley of course.

RoC80s: Your miniature collection has become rightfully rather famous in recent years, did you spend much time with the 'Eavy Metal team during your days as Managing Director?

BA: I’m afraid that I didn’t have a great deal of contact with the figure painters.  I probably didn’t go into their room more than ten times.  Phil Lewis took the figure painting (and the photography) in hand and worked with Alan Merret to make sure that all went well.  

Alan was the man who held things together at the studio.  

He’s still filling a senior role at GW.

Bryan and Bob Naismith - Back in the '80s... I wonder what was in those boxes? From the WD article 'From Sprue to you'.
Bob's workspace as it appeared in Heroes for Wargames.
RoC80s: The development of plastic miniatures was something you worked long and hard on in the 1980s. How did you go about moving from a metal casting process to a plastic one?

BA: I worked with John Thornthwaite on the plastics.  John had been in charge of plastics at Matchbox.  At the end of Matchbox, John was left single-handedly holding the company together.  This was the time of the Falklands War.  Matchbox had moulds for the very same jump jet, helicopter and warship that were getting a terrific amount of publicity in the news media .  John had his remaining staff working round the clock and they had filled the Matchbox loading bay with enough kits to keep the company rolling; however it turned out that the business had been somehow split into a number of separate independent parts.  Apparently the part that should have funded the shipping had run out of money and john’s kits never left the loading bay!

I think that Matchboxes metal cars survived in a new guise and provided a livelihood for ex Matchbox staff, but the plastic kits end went down. I ran into John at a Military modelling event.  He had started making his own military vehicle kits.  He came to work with us.

This was when we were still in Newark.  I was only running Citadel then. Steve and Ian were keen to do a game using our new plastic capability that could be sold into the toy market.  I think that they designed the game themselves, it was a dungeon adventure in about 60mm scale.  Mostly they were sold in the Games Workshop shops and Beatties.  


This was our first experience with plastics.


The artwork for the Drastik Plastik orcs by John Blanche 1985
A set of the Drastik Plastik orcs, one of Citadel's early experiments, and the 60mm Fighting Fantasy plastic range. Both in the collection of the author. 
RoC80s: The iconic plastic kit of the time were the RTB01 Plastic Space Marines. Were these an easy process to develop for plastics or something that took time to perfect?

BA: When John delivered the first of those plastic models I was very disappointed.  The models had visible blocks of unnecessary plastic all over the place.  John explained that they were there so that the models would come out of the metal mould without taking damage from undercuts.  

We had a fairly heated debate.  

I felt that if our metal models could be made to roll their way out of our quite hard rubber moulds without greatly imparing the sculpt, then these quite hard plastic models should be equally capable of rolling out of his metal moulds without resort to ugly filling. Some of you will probably remember the small sprues: Drastic Plastic etc. that we produced in our first experiments with plastic undercuts while sorting matters out.

I think that we produced our first plastic shields and perhaps bases while we were still in Newark. Our first proper plastics were that first box of Space Marines though.  My direct involvement with the detail of plastics manufacture ended with their arrival.  I think that we were all completely astonished that we had pulled it off.  We had not put the studio together that long before and we all felt that we had put something special together with the miniatures, the content of the Rogue Trader book and that remarkable edition of White Dwarf.

I expect that the project (perhaps alongside Space Hulk) was a highlight of a good number of the participants working lives.

Also, it brought us mighty Wayne England: who on reading the Rogue Trader White Dwarf, gave up his career in the packaging design industry to come and work with us.



Where Bob Naismith and Alan Merrett came in was in pulling the processes together. We would sculpt a miniature just as we normally would.  Then we would photograph it and blow it up in size (I think it might have been to eight times its size) and that image was used as a template for making a huge clay model.  We would then make a resin negative of the huge clay model, which would go away to one of John’s former colleagues from Matchbox, who would use a pantograph in the resin negative block, to guide him while he chiselled away a cavity in a steel block that would then be actually be used to manufacture the plastic version.

I think that another one of John’s colleagues from Matchbox ended up with their plastic machinery.  It was him who would actually inject the plastic and produce our finished sprues.

It was a long process making the big clay models.  The clay/wax mix (the same as used for making full size models of new motor cars) was hard and uncooperative.  Available sculptors and other volunteers would sit around a big table passing the wax models round.  Alan and Bob would participate. However, Alan’s role was within the studio: where he had many other responsibilities with regard to sculptors, miniatures, publications and artwork.  Bob’s responsibilities were outside the studio to a significant amount and involved dealing with the overall communication, pantography and the steel moulds.


The cover that launched a thousand Tactical Squads... White Dwarf 93
RTB01 - a design classic. 
RoC80s: We have been discussing the famous plastics that helped launch Rogue Trader: Warhammer 40,000 but what of the game itself? Did you have a feeling it would be the success it grew to be during the game's development?


We all had high expectations of Rogue Trader, we already felt that it would always be with us. We were keen to push on.  

We were confident that Space hulk would also do well: both because of its close association with 40K and because we had confidence in our overall plans for the game, I saw it as a very important complimentary product .  Richard Halliwell was in the country at the time [back from Africa I think]  and we brought him in to do the heavy lifting.  We already knew that we wanted the corridor cards and the alien monsters.  Hal got stuck right in and did a very fine job .  We were also very fortunate to have Wayne England to do the floorplans and the artwork. Wayne was taken by the concept and the game system. Soon he was producing 'Large Numbers Of' extra corridors and organizing the studio staff to play lunchtime games every day of the week. The extra corridors ended up in White Dwarf. 

By then we could tell that Games Workshop was going to continue to move steadily forward and we felt that we were in a position to do almost anything we liked (within the limits of hobby game industry of course). The weight of our attention was falling on 40K, but I don't think that that was greatly at the expense of Fantasy Battle or our other projects. 





Roc80s: One of the last things you worked on before leaving were some of the ork books and these are very fondly remembered by fans. Would there have been more if you stayed on?


BA: I thought that the Ork books were a marvellous creation.  If I had stuck around we would have produced similar books for all the 40K and Warhammer races (not necessarily with that many volumes though) and kept them 'Permanently in Print as Paperbacks'. The Warhammer world could have developed into a splendidly textured alternative reality for gamers to explore.  All they would have to do would be to pick up a book and walk right in.

Stephen Tappin's Banner Designs


Earlier on, I posted an article about the classic GW illustrator, Stephen Tappin. In that article I made reference to some miniatures that I saw in Bryan's collection which include standard bearers with versions of the flags we saw. 

Well, thanks to Steve Casey here are those very miniatures. 

Gorgeous are they not?


I am pretty certain that the banners and the majority of the figures you see here were painted by Ivan Bartlett, a member of the 'eavy metal team in the late '80s and early '90s. Tim Prow, who was also working in the Studio at that time, had a rather interesting anecdote to share about these today. 

"When we were pushed for time, any corner cutting we could get away with was sanctioned. I took banners from Jes' concept sheets and shrunk them down to the right size. The master banners were later printed up for you in White Dwarf to use on your own armies."

Better get photocopying!

Orlygg

Getting Going Again...

As I type this I am but 1,688 page views away from hitting 1,000,000 visits to this blog in just under three years. Barmy isn't it? There is clearly something about my rambling that you dear readers enjoy and I thank you for that success. 

I have recently been directed to various places where its seems that not everyone is so in favour of this blog and I. Apparently, everything I write just gets up one or two people's noses. 

Sadly, they are not just re-sellers and eBay con-artists either, but as the old saying goes: 'you can't please everyone all of the time' but I am happy to please the vast (and I can really say vast) majority of you in that regard. 

So thank you all so much for all your comments and support over the last few years. I hope you enjoy all the stuff yet to come. And I do have something special heading your way to celebrate that 1,000,000th page view and reward all your loyalty to the rhubarb I type. 

Wait and see.... Only 1,602 page views to go!


Look at the state of that!

Its my workspace at home and I must honestly say that it is in of a bit of a Spring Clean. As I have said before, these dark winter months are hardly inspiring for the miniature painter and I rarely get much work done this time of year. But some recent events have inspired me to get cracking again.

1. The Dark Future buzz going around the Oldhammer online community.

2. And Warlord Paul's upcoming game at Slayer, which I hope to attend. 

For the Dark Future stuff the challenge I want to set myself is simple - convert a modern die-cast vehicle into something suitable for the highways of an alternative reality. Oh, and do a blog post on what I learn. Clearly, by the response to my republication of my old DF material here the game is very popular once again. I will have to do something similar with all the Rogue Trader stuff I had on my other old blog.

For the second, the game in Notts I need to put together a small force of miniatures for use in this game. I was going to paint up some Empire Militia but for some reason thought of my little bag of barbarian models that have gathered dust in my collection. I have been meaning to do something with them for a while and fancy a small scale project for the coming weeks.


After a quick rummage, I located these four classics. Their backstory will be something along the lines a of a barbarian chief, his wife and their two warrior daughters... 

All very Robert E Howard!


Orlygg

Only 1,563 page views to go!

Illuminations: Stephen Tappin


When you think of the great artists who produced work during the Golden Age of Games Workshop, you would probably name John Blanche or Ian Miller without much thought. Tony Ackland and Tony Hough probably wouldn't be too far behind either, nor would John Sibbick. But one name that is probably not going to be vibrating around your brain like a bloodthirster with a hangover, is Stephen Tappin.

I have long been a fan of his work, largely due to the sheer number of bizarre and horrifying images he contributed to The Lost and the Damned but up until recently, it wasn't really aware of his 'name', if you know what I mean. He was just 'the bloke who drew that picture' to me, which on reflection the other day is a bit of an oversight on my part. Intrigued by what I discovered when I dug a little deeper I found myself typing his details into Google to see if any further gems would surface. I mean, was he still working? Or had he disappeared from the ether like some other names we could mention in Warhammer's past?


The first page of my search through up a bit of a shocker. Sister Sin! One of the most controversial images produced for Rogue Trader, and one that the fan-boys still argue about to this day. Is she a female Space Marine in power armour (two models of which were produced in the 1980s) or any early Adeptus Sororita, or something else entirely? I have nothing further to add to that discussion as I know from research that many of the artists producing artwork for Rogue Trader had no idea whatsoever what many of the model range would look like. Tony Hough told me that when he came to draw a Space Marine, the design boys still hadn't quite decided on what the legs would look like - so he just drew what he thought was appropriate! 

I would imagine that something similar lies behind Sister Sin, and though I was aware of the famous image, I had no idea that Stephen Tappin was the artist behind it. 


Now I mentioned this to someone online recently and they really did not agree with me at all, certain that is was Martin Mckenna who created the artwork. I started to doubt myself actually, not that I said so, as just because it says somewhere online that this piece of work is by a particular artist, doesn't make it true. Thankfully, a careful study of the image revealed to Stephen's signature on the bottom right of the picture.

Can you see it too?

Now as far as I can tell this piece of work was produced in 1987, when Stephen Tappin was working as a Freelance Illustrator for the Maggie Munday Agency (which still seems to exist if you follow the link)  while completing his training at the Canterbury College of Art and Design. He graduated from there in 1990 and seems to have continued with his freelancing (producing a great deal of work for GW in the process) for a couple of years before joining the company properly in 1992. 


Stephen remained there for the next couple of years, leaving in 1994. As I said, in the years between graduating and joining GW proper, he produced a huge amount of freelance work for the company, most notably for The Lost and the Damned but he also contributed materials to Warhammer Siege and other projects of that period. And some of that work is presented here, taken from one of the artists specials that White Dwarf used to occasionally publish: Illuminations.

Looking at the scan above, you will probably recognise the two banners at he top of the page from actual painted examples in Bryan Ansell's collection. One is a Nurgle design and the other a Slaaneshi job. But what came first, eh? The illustrations we see here or the painted examples stuck to the poles of standard bearers? My money would be on the illustrations, but you never can tell, can you?


One of my favourites from the spread of images above is this one. It depicts two chaotic looking warriors, in the day when these things didn't actually have to be closely aligned, ending a combat somewhere, no doubt, in the realm of chaos. It has shades of the famous Harry the Hammer picture that was used on the first edition of Warhammer and was recently found in a toilet in Stoke Hall. 

I really like this style of illustration. One that seems to have been a popular style in the Design Studio in the 1980s and early 90s. The scratchy almost woodcut-like qualities of many of the pieces of art endow them with an ancient and archaic vibe which results in the background to the game seeming much older and deeper than it actually is.  


Here is one of my favourite ever Warhammer illustrations and another one I didn't know was by Stephen Tappin. There is so much promise in this image, the promise of adventure and the infinite possibilities that the Warhammer world can suggest the gamer. It is also understated - which is how I imagine the Empire. None of the grim, spike strewn morbidity of later interpretations, but a colourful cod-fantasy world totally unaware of the awful horrors that lurk in the darkness to destroy them. Which makes the horror all the more horrific!

The beauty of this is in the detail. The cat on the ledge, the windowbox, the wizard type strolling down the steps, the buildings in the distance and the drying washing (tiny fantasy pants included) blowing in the wind. That gateway suggests a thousand different adventures and stirs the imagination in the way that CAD designed multipart kits cannot.


Looking at these illustrations leads me towards Advanced Space Crusade, a game I had in the late 80s and literally played to death. Like Space Crusade, its not a game you see discussed much these days but I am sure its time will come again. There is something rather unsettling about those early tyranid designs isn't there. Always loved the boneswords!

But what of Stephen Tappin after he left GW in 1994? Well, thanks to the internet it was a simple matter of using the search engine once more to uncover a little bit more of the story. If you are a British comics fan you will probably know the answer already - 2000AD! He did four years there in a freelance capacity, working on a range of different strips, including Judge Dredd, Slaine and the old GW favourite, Rogue Trooper! Then in 1998, Stephen switched to working in the field of matte design for film/advertising/musical promotion and remained there until the present day, working for a variety of different companies until the summer of last year when he joined Industrial Light and Magic as a concept artist. 

Perhaps to work on the new Star Wars films?


He certainly has the experience for such a job, having worked on recent 'blockbusters' like The Edge of Tomorrow and the rather silly title, X-Men: Days of Future Past among others. What really made me smile though was this image, lifted from his personal website, and one that will be very well known to British readers of this blog.


Yes...

Stephen Tappin, the man behind Sister Sin and so many other classic Games Workshop art was behind that iconic piece of advertising for John Lewis two Christmases ago! Can anyone else sense the hand of Tzeentch at play?


Sunday, 18 January 2015

Completed Sanctioned Op Interceptor

Hello, and welcome back to that endless track of alternative 90s American desert highway in all our souls, namely Dark Future. Its been a while, but I finally have an update, having finished the second interceptor from the box set. 

I went for red this time. As with the previous model, I avoided any markings, leaving the cars purely anonymous. 

Can you spot the driver? Got a nice dash in there!

Some serious weaponry on this car - all the better to bring in those Maniax scum!

Rear view, obviously...

The cars lined up - just a few motorbikes to finish but I don't really need them for a game.
What do you guys think?

Orlygg

Completed 'Maniax' Renegades and Sanctioned Op Interceptor

Welcome back to Route 666: The Dark Future Blog. As promised last post, I did not intend to return here until I had a roadgang finished. Well I am pleased to announce that I have completed the two renegades and super detailed the interceptor.

Here they are below!


As you can see drybrushing has been must new best friend in getting the vehicles to look like they are no strangers to the lawless wastelands of the alternative 90s USA.


Freehand skull design is a nod towards the Arcane Armorials and the classic Kil Kil Kil to Rogue Trader!






Just have to finish work on the last interceptor and I am ready for my first game!

Best get back to the brushes!

Orlygg.

Spin Off City: Dark Future's Supplements

Phew! I have had a busy week. And I have even busier weekends with two kids and a wife! I hope to spend some of this afternoon working on fishing up my Dark Future test piece and putting it online. To wet my appetite as I sit at the computer and work is to Google Dark Future and see what comes up!

Today I present the supplements that GW released shortly after the boxed game - which we haven't even looked at in detail yet, have we?

The Battlecars box set painted up. It was essentially more of the same, with double the amount of plastic kits that came with the box set. Certainly useful for big games and conversions.
The official box art from Battlecards. True to GW's form, they recycle old product names and in this case, Battlecars had been a previous vehicle combat game.  By the way, I love the 'Doom Buggy' and I am going to have to paint up a motor in homage!



Lots of additional rules were included in this, White Line Fever, the only major supplement released for the game.

The Dark Future version of those great ads that GW used to publish in the late 1980s.


Orlygg.