The Gen Con Project: Designing New Minis for the Critters

Hi, my name is Russ and as the lead sculptor here at Steamforged Games. It fell to me to handle the exciting task of designing two pieces to coincide with Critical Role’s first official booth presence at Gen Con. After lots of fun conversations with everyone at SFG and Critical Role, we decided that a collectible bust of Yasha and an alternative version of Vax, with his awesome wings, were two great choices for the fans.

As both pieces were a little unusual compared to a typical mini design, we thought it would fun to share with you an insight into the process of putting them together!

Let’s begin with Yasha. Whist she isn’t the first collector bust we have designed, she is the first one where we knew that we wanted a true collector display item. Previously, when Steamforged has designed busts, they are for hobbyist and competition painters and come in lots of unassembled, unfinished pieces requiring a lot of effort (and glue!) to assemble at home. We knew that we wanted to offer the Critters something beautiful in a box that they could immediately display and enjoy.

This meant that we had to design a piece that could be manufactured in a single unit and realized with a fine, polished finish. Our first thoughts therefore were to plan the posing and composition to support this single piece constraint.

I began with Yasha’s 28mm scale miniature as a reference point. The beauty of digital sculpting is that scale is something that can be easily adjusted, so it was straightforward process to scale her up and use it as a foundation to build all new parts for.

MN-Yasha.png

There are some strange things that can happen with scale and proportion when sculpting miniatures especially when you effectively shrink a person to be an inch tall! One thing I had to work on was altering the facial structure to allow it to look natural at a larger size, whilst keeping the same character and appearance. At this stage, I also began the process of adding a level of detail for her hair and clothing that would be impossible at miniature scale, creating more detail and texture with knotwork and beading to really add to the character and narrative of the piece.

To decide on a pose, I grabbed Mat (SFG creative director) and the rest of the sculpting team and we discussed several ideas. We eventually decided our favorite pose was one that suggested the calm before the storm, a moment of stoic regard before her sword comes out and she strikes! This is quite an extreme pose anatomically, with the torso twist and raised arm, and required some careful reference to make sure it worked. When sculpting poses such as these, we always focus on adding dynamic tension and a feeling of ‘mid-movement’ where we can for the model to really feel life-like. We don’t want a frozen pose! At this stage, her hair required even more detail to add this sense of movement in the pose. Sculpting hair can be a pretty Zen experience and so headphones on, I lost a few more hours just in the ‘zone’!

Once the first pass sculpt was done, I grabbed everyone again and we hit the review button. Once we were happy, the model was shown to the Critical Role team and final tweaks and polish was made. At this point, the model was printed by the lovely Aitch (SFG 3DD printing expert!) on our highest resolution 3d printer. Then this was shipped to our metal casting facility who set about casting the pieces in high quality pewter before working each piece by hand through the process of antique finishing, polishing and treating so the lovely satin finish is durable and long lasting. With each piece had finished, we had custom packaging created to present them in!

The Yasha collector bust is without a doubt one of the highest quality of finish items we have produced and allowed us to solve some new and interesting challenges along the way!

Winged Vax was a model everyone agreed we wanted to sculpt from the very beginning of our involvement with Critical Role. Liam’s portrayal of Vax and the visual image of the wings bursting out was just too cool.

After chatting with Liam about his favorite images of Vax, I roughed out a concept of Vax in an attacking pose, basically an idea created from three different poses. I was able to build on the excellent work that Tom Lishman (SFG sculptor), had done already for the Vox Machina set version of Vax. His design was spot on and just needed to be reposed and reworked into the pose we needed. Similarly, to the Yasha bust, first step was to re-sculpt the elements like the hair and cloth, which gets mushed about by the re-posing.

Then I built the wings!

There’s no easy way to say it…sculpting feathers is HARD! They take a long time to do and require some clever design work because they have almost no thickness or mass, but on a mini need to be thick and strong enough to cast and not break. I spent easily a day and a half just making feathers and placing them into the wing framework I had created. Another Zen moment passes…

Once the wings were done, I then had to place them on Vax and combine the two elements into a balanced composition. An additional challenge was that, where a lot of miniatures are designed in many pieces for easy casting, the production team was determined that this mini should be limited to only two simple, easy-to-assemble, pieces. We were aware that many Critters who wanted to own Vax might not be big miniatures collectors with drawers full of hobby tools, so it was important to everyone at SFG and Critical Role that the design be as easy to put together as possible.

Interestingly, it’s much easier to design a model without having to worry about where the cuts go and how the model gets put together. Instead it's far more challenging to design a model that is both full of action and feels dynamic whilst remaining easy to put together. We couldn’t be happier with the results though and the model fits together easily, it requires just a small dab of glue to permanently stay together.

Both pieces were an absolute joy to work on and we really hope that with the support of the Critter community, there will be many further opportunities to work on similar projects in the future!

Speaking of the future and what wonderful secrets it holds for us Gen Con’s only a week away and we were incredibly fortunate to be able to sneak in a quick trip to California to meet up with Matt Mercer and the Critical Role cast and crew to go over some of the Critical Role miniature releases for next year!

Reviewing the 100 miniatures which will be hitting retail next year we thought it might be fun to start teasing out some of our favorites to help fill the time until everyone can add these incredible miniatures to their home campaigns.  Here you go, the first look at one of the upcoming new miniatures:

teaser.jpg

Who is it? What is it? What could it be?

Let us know what you think it is by leaving us a comment over at SFG Facebook or SFG Twitter