Creating miniatures is fun… but it is also A LOT of hard work, especially since we chose to set the bar so high!
Our overall approach is the same as the one used in a movie studio: the creation of each miniature comes from a collaborative team process in which each artist and technician brings his or her unique take to the new model.
This process is long and very demanding. Designing and sculpting a Raging Heroes miniature takes between 2 and 6 time more than what is usually the norm in a miniature company!
…and we only work with very top of the line artists;
… and we tend to be a pain in their ass because of our high level of expectations!
That the reason why our minis tend be priced at the top range of the market. But high quality comes at a price and we know our clients expect only the best from us.
When we start brainstorming about a new character, we want to answer a few different questions: who she is, what will make her stand out, what is her unique trait, what makes her likeable, etc.
For example, when we worked on Arthenya
, the Sister’s ArchPapess, we wanted an older but very elegant woman, someone visibly in her sixties or more, yet still very classy and elegant. She needed to look like a queen and be very charismatic. She would need to look very powerful but not through a display of strength or heavy weaponry.
We start with such a description then dig deep into details.
The final Arthenya VI miniature
The mood board
Once we have this, Benoit, the Art Director, looks for references and assembles a mood board. In the case of Arthenya, one of the key things was to find an older woman that we could “cast” for the role.
Benoit had Carmen Dell'Orefice in mind since the beginning. Carmen is a very famous super model still working at 87 years old! Her sharp silhouette and attitude, her hair style, her hawk like features were a perfect reference from which to start the character.
Then many other things were added to the mood board: clothing references, jewels and ornaments taken from XVth century paintings, bishops’ accessories, etc.
Here’s a very good mood board example, the one created for Dr Von X:
Doctor Von X moodboard
Dr von X
is an Iron Empire mad scientist. The goal for her was to make a character that would look creepy because of a mix of non-threatening and disturbing features. She had to look like a nice 50’s nurse fused with creepy steampunk equipment.
We spent a full day working on the glasses of her gas mask. Their shape had to be feminine, elegant, yet creepy. It took many trials and errors just to find the right references and later to properly sculpt them so that she would have a very distinctive, feminine and creepy look.
Then Sculpt Supervisor JR added the idea of the mechanical arm to hold here cup of tea and teapot… It was perfect.
Doctor Von X work in progress sculpt / concept
Dr Von X 3D sculpt
The finished Dr Von X miniature
Posing and Composition
Another key component of our character design work is body language, posing and composition.
A single hand position or head tilt can completely transform what a character expresses. The silhouette of a character and the visual composition are also key to express energy, character, emotions.
This part of the work demands a very keen sense of observation. It is generally a very big challenge for sculptors who start working with us and who are not accustomed to think this way and tend to focus more on anatomy features and reproducing accessories and costumes from the concept art
Posing tests for the Jailbirds Heavy Weapon Teams
Posing is really a form of acting: in a single pose, you need to express what the character wants and what is her personality. You need to capture motion in a still drawing or sculpture, it’s like catching lightning in a bottle.
Thanks for us, Mireille has been teaching acting for quite some time and she has been training the whole team on the subtleties of posing for about 10 years now!
And then there’s composition.
Composition is the visual structure that underlies the concept art or sculpture. It is like a scaffolding on which the character parts lay. Composition is a complex and very powerful visual language, and in a Raging Heroes miniature, there is rarely a single limb, sword, strand of hair, or even a very small detail that hasn’t been placed there on purpose to balance the composition, generate energy and motion.
This is mostly JR’s and Benoit’s work. They constantly review all concepts and sculpts to make sure they have the most powerful composition.
The work of the concept artist is to translate the various briefs and moodboards into drawings. He will also bring his own ideas into the mix and more often than not create characters completely from scratch. Virtually all the Raging Heroes’ characters concepts you may have seen have been created by the very talented concept artist Alex Boca.
Iron Empire Major Severina Madsen's concept
Other companies often ask for very “technical” drawings showing front, side and back views of the character. The concept art also has to somehow have the same proportions as the final sculpt (miniatures tend to be very squat compared to real humans). All this is to make the work of the sculptors more straightforward.
Some of the TGG1 concepts pinned on our wall during the TGG1 Kickstarter Campaign
On the contrary, we deliberately work with concepts that are more raw - and sometime messy or too detailed - to preserve the energy and initial idea of the concept artist. We also don’t worry too much about the proportions in the concept. What we are looking for is the composition and the motion that a drawing artist will generate with a form of loose, yet detailed drawing.
The Sisters of Eternal Mercy's War Pulpit concept with notes from the sculptor and the art director about how to interpret various elements of the design
Most of the time, sculpting will only start after a concept art has been created. The challenge with the type of concepts we use is that the sculptors cannot simply copy the concept artist drawing. They have to re-interpret, analyse and truly understand what underlies the drawing. It is much more hard to do than it might seem.
Zaraya, the Pilgrim Priestess Work in Progress sculpt
This is why most of the sculptors we began work with threw in the towel after the first sculpt. Between TGG 1 and TGG 2, we selected about 50 - 60 sculptors to work with. Only 6 of them really continued working with us beyond 2 or 3 sculpts.
Posing an Icariate after her body has been rigged, that is fitted with an inner skeleton used for animation
Furthermore, as in a studio, our sculpting process is very cooperative. Each sculptor has his or her own specialties: Francesca has been working for a long time on posing, Alfonso is very good at female anatomy, Martin was great on all strange and creepy or cute characters, Andrea is the ultimate Zbrush (the sculpting software we use) specialist and also has the most extensive knowledge of all our processes and requirements and he’s also the fastest sculptor, Svetlana was good at mostly everything, but she was killing it on meticulous tasks and details. Alex was a great fixer, reworking and polishing others’ work.
With our studio approach, each sculptor would usually do no more than 50% of a sculpt. And then, the rest of the team would step in and polish, adapt, rework.
Each sculpt then pass in the hands of JR and Benoit who massage the sculpt until something clicks and the character suddenly jumps off the screen.
As we said earlier, this process takes forever and is definitely not an economical approach!
First Lady Kashala mock up
Lady Kashala work in progress sculpt
Lady Kashala final version
Sculpting often feel very much like a game of "spot the difference" between the concept and the sculpt. Here are some feedback images comparing the concepts and the sculpts of some Daughters of the Crucible:
Preparing for print
Then comes the dreadful phase of print preparation. Each sculpt has to be analysed and tweaked to be printable with a 3D printer and then moulded so the miniature can be cast in resin.
More often than not, at this time many things need to be reworked because during the intense sculpting phase, some parameters are not taken into account by the sculptors. It means that many parts have to be thickened, hidden holes have to be detected and filled.
The 3D sculpt is made of a virtual mesh. It looks somewhat like a fishing net. If in some parts the net has become tangled, the sculpt won’t be printable. This happens more often than not if the sculptors are not careful. So the mesh has to be “untangled”
Even with strict supervision, when about 400 sculpts have to be produced, this kind of problem tends to happen more than it should. So countless hours have to be spent to clean the sculpts, cut them in several parts and have the files ready for the 3D print.
Printing in itself is pretty straightforward once the files have been perfectly prepared.
However, Raging Heroes has been the very first miniature company to exclusively work with digital sculpting and 3D printing. At a time when the technology was still nascent, we searched all over the world for about 2 years to find 3D printers that would be sharp enough to output the level of fine sharpness required.
We tried many suppliers, we had many disappointments. After a few more years, we finally found the machine of our dreams and we now do all printing in-house.
Once the 3D printer has created a master of the sculpt, this master has to be duplicated so we have enough parts to fill a mould. So the master is sent to the foundry.
The foundry create a mould containing several 3D prints of different minis and spins it about 20 times. The casts will then be used as submasters to create the production moulds. It means that they need to be extra clean and sharp. A very great care is taken to clean the submasters. All the little defects are filled. Sometimes, some very small details are even resculpted by hand to get the best possible crispness.
Production moulds and casting
Now comes the delicate process of mould making. Casting resin is usually done with silicon moulds that produce very few models at once and deteriorate very quickly. The resin is pulled in a hole at the top of the mould and gravity does the rest.
But this process is not suited for large runs.
That’s why, very early on, we searched for an alternative solution. We found the only foundry in the world who had mastered resin spin-casting. Spin-casting is the technology used for casting metal. The mould is placed in a high speed rotating chamber and the metal is pushed into the cavities of the mould by centrifugal force.
A big bunch of resin casts, with the miniatures still attached on the casting sprue
For many reasons, resin couldn’t be cast this way… until someone found the solution.
But as you can imagine, this solution is an art in itself and requires controlling many, many parameters to do the job right.
Harry the Hippo on his casting sprue
This is why the mould-making process is so delicate.
In the end, the mould looks very similar to a metal spin-cast mould, but many, many subtle differences occur all along the process.
The same goes with casting the pieces.
Packing and shipping
Once the manufacturing is done, the miniatures come back at our workshop where they are checked one last time and packed.
We have chosen to go with a very sturdy packaging and all the packing process is done by hand to minimise breakage risks.
Then your minis are picked up by the post office and sent for a trip around the world.
They can’t wait to be on your gaming table to bring you victory!