Wednesday, 27 December 2006

GZG walkers; painted

Two representative samples as completed. I decided that they had to be based on rigid bases because even after the limited handling involved in painting them, I could feel the legs working their way loose.

The camo pattern is loosely based on the 1980s MERDC patterns used by the US and still widely used in countries which were getting US military aid around that time; you can still see it on Korean and Greek and Turkish vehicles among others. The eight MERDC patterns were based on greens and browns. The prettiest of them was the almost never used woodland summer scheme which used dark green, light green and small highlights in black and sand. However, the only one which you ever really saw was the woodland temperate, which was half brown, half dark green with highlights in black and sand. In Greece, the sand was often replaced by light grey. I used the rough template, but replaced green with light grey, highlights being grey green and mid brown.

I did not repeat the mistake of blackwashing the entire vehicle, instead opting for the fiddly, annoying and never particularly satisfactory technique of blacklining the panels. This looks quite garish in the photos above, but at arms length on a table it will be fine, particularly in the rather feeble lighting conditions prevailing on wargames tables. All successful figure painters wind up going one of two ways. Either their technique improves to the point where their figures look wonderfully lifelike and win prizes, or they realise that the figure only has to look convincing at three feet under a sixty watt bulb and their technique becomes all about getting roughly useful effects in the shortest possible time. I went down the second path years ago, and with every year that passes, I find new ways to avoid putting any more work into painting than is absolutely necessary for the objective in hand - which is generally to put a lot of figures on a table to a deadline.

Photos were taken in natural light around the middle of a very rainy day. On a bright day they could probably have been done hand held, but with the overcast conditions the meter was showing 1/15 of a second at f2.2, and it seemed safest to use the tripod and the remote release. Interestingly, the White Balance setting on the Sony for cloud gave the wrong colour balance; I got the most faithful results with the sunlight setting.

Sunday, 24 December 2006

GZG walkers; preparation

The plan here is to paint a four colour arid landscape camouflage in light grey, light brown and small hints of mid brown and mid green. It remains to be seen whether I will be any more successful with that than with the gravs.

GZG make two different lines of walkers, eight legged and four legged. The four legged exists at the moment only as an armed scout type vehicle

This is the gun armed variant. There are two gun turrets available, one of which has a light cannon, and the other of which allows you to plug slightly bigger gun barrels into a roughly similar sized turret with a socket for rather science fictiony looking guns.

This is a missile armed variant, actually assembled from some of the spares provided when you order a platoon pack of anything.

Eight legged walkers can now be had either as tanks or APCs, though the APC seems strangely unconvincing to me - hard to get into, hard to get out of, not really high enough for troops to sit inside. I bought the tanks, which can have any of three guns plugged into the turret mantlet and a sensor mast stuck in a socket in the roof. As with the grav vehicles, I made up four, with three main gun turrets and one support turret which has a short gun and a missile pack. The main gun in the picture below doesn't show well; it actually consists of three parallel barrels held together at the muzzle end with a big clamp. I have no idea how I'm going to make that look reasonable. The sensor masts in these cases are the alternative spherical ones provided. One thing I'm really conscious of as the vehicles go together is that GZG have provided a lot of sockets in the turret roofs of their vehicles, and that there aren't really enough things to fill them plausibly. I may have to copy what they do with their own samples on their site and stick antennae into the remaining open holes, because they show up even after you've finished painting.

GZG grav armour; painted

These did not come out as I had hoped. The basic idea was to paint them in the current Swedish armour scheme, which is a splinter pattern in two shades of green and black. The first hiccup was when my preferred lighter green didn't have what it took to cover my mid green. So I wound up using a greyish green which gave the right amount of contrast but not quite the look I'd wanted. Then it turned out that it's actually quite hard to lay down a splinter pattern on such a busy and cluttered hull, so the patterns weren't quite as neat as I had hoped. However, the thing which just ruined it was the decision that I needed to emphasise the hull detailing by giving the vehicles an ink wash. This went on far too black and blotted out all the colours without really emphasising the detailing at all. And it couldn't readily be undone without starting the painting from scratch, which I wasn't in the mood for. So I retouched the lighter green and then dry brushed the vehicles heavily to reduce the excessive darkening caused by the ink wash.

That just left me wondering about the grav plates; after a lot of dithering I abandoned my initial idea of painting them blue with metallic blue highlights and settled for painting them silver with a green ink wash and dark bronze edging. The ink wash here worked out fine, settling well into the grooves and providing a useful streakiness on the raised areas.

Basing was done very simply; PVA glue brushed onto the base, then shake the base in beach sand. Let the glue dry and then recoat it with more glue to bind the sand and stop it shedding. A useful side effect of the second coat is that it darkens the sand and punches up the contrast between different grains. Dry brush with buff paint. Dab on yet more glue and then shake the base in micro foam flock.

I'm abashed about the ink wash outcome. I'd never had much luck with ink washes in the past, but then tried diluting the ink with Johnson's Kleer floor polish, which breaks up the surface tension and stops it from beading on the flat areas. It worked like a dream with 15mm infantry figures - the scale reference figures in the earlier shots were painted simply by washing them in one solid colour, inkwashing them heavily and then dry brushing them with the base colour again, giving an effecitve enough shaded effect for very little effort. The results are less inspiring when applied to big areas.

Friday, 22 December 2006

Photographing miniatures

Putting pictures on Blogger is annoyingly counter intuitive. Hats off to Google for coming up with something which is actually more frustrating to use than the picture layout tool in Word. So apologies for the messy layout in the last post, but it's not my fault. I need to think more about this. The next picture post will probably have less pictures.

There are whole web sites devoted to taking pictures of miniatures and I've got no intention of reinventing the wheel. I'm just going to note for the record how those shots were taken.

Sony DSC F828 on a tripod shooting into a cheap light box I bought on impulse a while ago. The box was lit from outside with two anglepoise lamps fitted with 75 W daylight bulbs; these are also the lights I use to paint under - in fact the set up was done on my painting table. The painting lights were Robert's idea, and a huge improvement on my efforts to get the light right using a single flash either on or off the camera. With the lights, I used manual exposure with the aperture set at 4.5 and a shutter speed of about three seconds; the times varied slightly depending on the shot, with most of the shots underexposed by about .7 of a stop to allow for the fact that I was shooting a fairly dark green and I didn't it to wash out.

I have complained in an earlier post about the limitations of the 828's viewfinder - it turns out that if you set the camera to manual and then work towards the correct exposure, the viewfinder will give a reasonably faithful approximation of the final shot based on the values that you dial in. Very useful because I was shooting a dark object against a light background and even with spot metering the camera's "correct" exposure was bringing the shot in too bright. I only wish it would do this when you're working on programme with a flash, but it's impressive to see, and it's a trick which SLRs can't do. The LCD preview has the other advantage that when you're working with this kind of job off a tripod, you can set up the shot without stooping awkwardly to see through the viewfinder. Overall, I may keep on using the Sony for this work even if I do buy a better camera.

Post processing was very limited; load the pictures into iPhoto, discard the useless shots (three-fifths of the shots on the card were useless shots from the early efforts to get the flash to do the work) and then crop the shots down. Once I had the crops done, I needed to correct a slight pink cast which I've noticed in most of my shots of figures. I can't decide whether it was because I got the white balance setting wrong or whether there's some quirk in the camera - I'm undecided because I've seen the pink cast in earlier shots which were done with dedicated flash where the white balance should have been perfect out of the box.

GZG SF armour; the grav vehicles

This is the GZG approach to a grav tank, at the early stage of painting. I've undercoated it black and primed it mid green - really cheap mid green, but the shade was the one that I wanted. I'm putting it up partly to show what the vehicle looks like and partly because I'm planning to show the process of painting the vehicle up.

The gun is one of three choices. The saucer shaped thing to the left of the vehicle commander is one of two choices for a sensor housing - the other one is a globe, which i used on the walker tanks.

This shows one of the alternative gun choices. In this case I also stuck a missile box on the mount for the sensor arm in the first example. I made one up in this mode and three with the big gun and the sensor disc. Stargrunt envisages no more than a pltoon of tanks a side so I was thinking in terms of a platoon of two to three gun tanks and one support tank with a short range heavy weapon and missiles for longer range interdiction. Or, being completely truthful, I was just making the most of the variations provided

This is the lighter grav vehicle with a turret mounted long gun. GGZ also make this with an unmanned turret which doesn't look as good. I wound up discarding a number of those turrets to the spares box.

The same light grav vehicle, this time with a support turret. The missile box in this case is cast into the turret. You get to decide which of two different gun barrel types to use; this picture shows the shorter one, and the one above shows the longer.

This shows the heavy with a couple of figures for scale purposes. The figures are old Traveller figures made in the 1980s which I only got round to undercoating and painting once I started buying these vehicles. Below, again for scale, is one of the light tanks with the same figures

Thursday, 21 December 2006


I have the camera set up right now in the hope of taking some pictures of all that GZG lead I was talking about earlier. I bought a cute little tabletop stand for the camera a while back but it's never really worked out for me; too hard to control the movement of the camera on the useless little head the stand's got. So I got out the tripod and looking across at it now I'm reminded of when I bought it, some twenty years ago. I was on a trip to London with AM, and bought the tripod because it was solid and the price was good, though higher than the limit for bringing things home. On the way back. the customs guys stopped us when we were coming back into the country. They saw the tripod and figured that there was bound to be all kinds of photographic goodies in our luggage. Much searching for contraband ensued.

Nothing to be found. All I had was an obviously well used SLR and nothing much else. It doesn't seem to have occurred to them that what I was actually smuggling was the tripod.

bang, wallop, ouch

Black ice is a wonderful thing. Inconspicuous, but full of excitement
I mean, you can't see it. I should have been looking out for it, but late at night, yards from home, you get complacent. Then you sweep into the last corner before you get to the house, and the back wheel pulls away and the whole bike starts to slide sideways and in an almost elegant movement you're sliding along the road, thinking "this ain't too bad". There no traffic, so you're not worried, and there's no pain yet. The slide stops and you're lying there on the road, almost comfortable, buffered in layers of wool and leather and the shoulder bag has swung clear so that you didn't land on it and hurt your back. Clack, the helmet bounces off the road beside you because you didn't think of cinching on the chin strap before you set out. Clack, the second bounce and you look up to see the man walking his dog beside you, wanting to know if you're OK. Still, it all feels wonderfully comfortable. It's going to take a second or two to get your breath back, but really it's not been at all bad as uncontrolled skids late at night go.

You struggle out from under the bike, realising that the bad leg has taken the hit and that this may not be as much fun as it felt like a few moments ago, and you stagger upright. It's fine, it's fine.

It's not.

Luckily the house is only yards away. You hobble the bike back to where it belongs, and let yourself in. AM is back a little while and is predictably bothered, but it still all feels manageable.

In the morning, not so much. The ten feet from the bed to the bathroom is an ordeal. Getting down the stairs takes thought. Going to work is not even an option. The right leg won't take your weight, won't straighten out fully. And you had plans for today and no real way to fill the time just sitting at home.

The bike is fine. How long it's going to be before I ride it again is still up for grabs.

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Camera angst

For about ten years when I was in my twenties, I carried at least one camera every day, usually a Pentax MX SLR with a - to me - interesting backstory. Backstory aside, it was a simple camera with a fast prime lens and all manual controls. Even if the battery went flat it would go on taking pictures at whatever settings you'd dialled in. If you knew how to estimate an exposure, you didn't need the meter. And although I had, and have, the visual sensibility of a tree stump, I did have the ability to estimate exposure settings and the kind of rock steady wrists which let you work without a flash. The results were never great art, but I liked getting the shot in circumstances where most people would have had to use more camera and much more flash.

When I lived in Greece, I somehow stopped carrying a camera. It was too much trouble and over the space of a year or so what had been a hobby just passed out of my life.

For more than a decade, I dug out a camera for family events and pretty much didn't think of them apart from that. Then my sisters started having children and this seemed to respark the interest; I started carrying a camera when I would head over on a visit. I'd bought a digital camera by this stage, without ever getting much real use out of it. Canon Digital Ixus. It was a really well made camera, but it was never any real use to me. Like all modern compact cameras, it had a motorised lens which popped out when you switched on the camera. Makes for a nice compact package, but it means that it takes about ten or fifteen seconds for the camera to be ready to use, and so it wasn't much use when you caught a glimpse of something fleeting. And if you carried it ready against the chance of a shot, you hit the next bump, which was an autofocus mechanism that operated in geological time. Push the shutter button all the way through and wait for the camera to decide it was ready - frustrating, and when you're taking pictures of children, a guarantee of disappointment.

I traded up. I bought a Sony 828, the best thing I could afford at the time. Digital SLRS still cost ridiculous amounts of money in 2003. It's a very good camera. The lens is sharp and bright. The camera is ready to shoot as soon as you switch it on. The autofocus is fast and if you insist on taking the picture before the focus is ready, that's your decision. The on-camera flash is like any on-camera flash, pretty much useless. I bought a real flash to get around that, and when I have to use flash, I've got good results from it. There's just a couple of niggles. The viewfinder is terrible. In bright light it washes out. In dim light, it shows you what it thinks the picture will look like if you shoot without flash, which effectively means that it shows you a murky reddish blurred mess. There's probably an override for this, but I haven't found it yet. And it has that manual mode that so many manufacturers include on high end cameras - whizz a dial around for shutter speed, hold down a button and whizz the same dial for aperture. You can't independently control both at the same time, which is actually the key to doing manaul exposure properly.

The two things got more and more frustrating. I missed the bright clear view of an SLR viewfinder. The fact that I could use the LCD display on the 828 to set up shots unobtrusively or from better angles was great, but not enough of a compensation. And not being able to use manual control just annoyed me. So I began to think about SLRs again.

What I wanted was a Pentax. But Pentax weren't making a digital SLR. And I didn't like Canon - the control wheel's in the wrong place for my hand. And I couldn't afford anything serious from Nikon and I didn't see the less serious Nikon machines doing what I wanted. And so on.

This summer I started thinking seriously about it. I had the money to buy something useful, and the limitations of the Sony were starting to get to me. About the time that I was thinking seriously about the Nikon d70 (having weighed up and decided against the Pentax *ist series on the grounds that a) they couldn't be found in Ireland and b) the viewfinders were poor) Sony announced an SLR with chip based image stabilisation. Basically a re-engineered Minolta 5D, but interesting. i put the plans on hold till I could see one.

In the autumn, I finally got my hands on one. It was all right, but not quite right. Apart from anything else, the manual control had exactly the same weakness that the 828 had. And the lenses were going to be dear - if they could be found at all - and I'd need to buy a new flash (because Sony had unaccountably decided to stick with Minolta's completely non standard flash mount). Mmmm. There were rumours of a D80 from Nikon which would have the same resolution as the Sony Alpha and better build quality and imaging. i decided to wait to see one of those.

While I was waiting, Pentax finally announced a camera I could respect - the K10D. Chip based stabilisation. Proper manual controls. Good weather seals. I could use my old lenses with it - sort of. Same resolution as the Nikon d80 and the Sony Alpha. All in all, the camera I wanted, allegedly to be available in November.

And here it is, early December and there's no sign of one to be had. For the first time I can remember, it's not a matter of wanting something and knowing that if I waited the price would come down and I could get it for less. I'm sitting there with the money burning a hole in my pocket and there's no way to get the machine even if I paid top dollar. Signs on, the first sightings of either the K10D or the Samsung knock-off, the GX10 will be in January, when whoever is selling them will be having to price them to attract people away from discounted Nikon D80s and even more discounted Canon 400s - at which point I will have to buy a bargain whether I like it or not.

Of course, by the time I've waited that long, I may well have lost interest in the idea. But for the moment, it's something to brood on.