At Night They Howl (A Space Wolves diorama) – the PRELUDE
Some time ago – at the beginning of “At Night They Howl” A Space Wolves diorama, Jay told me that if I like, I can write a small article about it. I thought to myself- I’ll wait till I will finish it, as too many things can go wrong before the end! There were some ups and downs, as it took me 2.5 months to finish it, but I have managed to finish it nonetheless, just before the Golden Demon 2017. Moreover, it appears that Jay hadn’t changed his mind and I still had the opportunity to write a short story about the creation of my biggest project so far. I like to think that’s because it’s worth something too! Long story short – here’s a story about my Space Wolf adventure, which has been both fun and educating. Please excuse me if I will write in a bit chaotic fashion, but with a such big project, it’s hard to write just a step-by-step article. Some things can be told in an orderly way, where others emerge after a while.
I must say, that I can’t whine about me being unlucky with my commissioned projects. For the past couple of months I must admit that I have enjoyed every single commission, and the “At Night They Howl” diorama was like the icing on the cake. There were a couple of requests regarding this commission. One of them was to create something different than pale blue Space Wolves, which left me with quite a lot of space for making something unique. The miniature I should use was well known from the very begining – one of the great Space Wolves characters, Bjorn the Fell-Handed. The Space Wolves are my favourite chapter by far, because of their feral appearance. As those who are familiar with my works probably know, I don’t really dig the clean/polite/candy stuff and I was very happy that I could make another angry miniature. The third request affected the base – Bjorn himself has to be detachable, as he is going to be used in battles.
THE EARLY STAGES AND INSPIRATION
As with every project (check out my page HERE) I had to look for available minis. I wasn’t too excited, as the old/new Bjorn is better than the oldest metal one, but not THAT good for a painting competition (his pose is way too boring for me). I was lucky that Forge World released a very nice Space Wolves Dreadnought, which I had bought. Too bad that after receiving them I have discovered that after two days of cleaning I could only use his chest, and banner + exhaust parts, as others were of such poorly cast, that I had to replace them with original plastic parts. But apart from that I felt that I had some nice parts to start making something more dynamic!
I try to seek for some emotions in every mini, and if I can’t find any, I try to make some, I like to make those minis actually have some meaning. In other words – I had to re-make Bjorn’s hull a bit as he was hidden deep inside and it was hard to tell if he would like to eat an apple, or maybe kill some monsters!
As I wrote above – Bjorn taken from the box (or rather his pose), would make a fine honor guard in front of some gate, but not as a pissed off Wolf-Man. As usual I have decided to replace a helm with an open face (I know that it’s not fluffy, but well it had to be done, as helm’s aren’t emotional at all), and re-pose him. I have searched for a suitable face, and found one without much trouble. The only problem was his hair which was too static. If needed I can sculpt some things, or make some conversions, but sculpting flowing hair is not an easy task. Plus I wanted to make his hair very untidy, with braids, ruffled beard and such. In other words I wanted him to look like an pissed wolf. I’m not running away from difficult tasks, so I decided to go around this issue, and use very thin wires to make his hair. They were very thin so I had to use a lot of them, but in the end I think they turned out quite nice. Painting was an issue though (as I had to paint individual “hairs” not a sculpted bunch), but I believe that next time I will do better. I have spent quite a long time to make such a small element, but I believe the face is the most important part of the mini (that’s why I like using faces instead of helmets). That’s why I have put extra care with this part of the project. His face shows everything I wanted this diorama to express – yelling face, painted in gritty fashion, with shaggy beard, and braids tells a story of an old, battle hardened warrior, who will rather die than let his foes survive. Any of this wouldn’t be visible if used on a helmet, or a closed Dreadnought sarcophagus. I mean it would show a shooting robot, but it would lack that bit of something that adds a bit of life to the plastic model.
DEVELOPING THE STORY
To make him even more believable I have added a dead enemy at his feet. Apart from the fluffy aspect (his victim – a Thousand Son Marine, whose Legion are mortal enemies of the Space Wolves), using another model made the scene more obvious and dramatic. Just like with Bjorn, I had to re-pose the original Thousand Sons model. I have cut him to pieces, and tried to pose him as well as I could, so that the plastic power armour would look good on a flat surface (I’d love to have a full plate armuor around just to see how silly it would look lying on hard floor. Would it look like it was floating? Interesting. After some attempts I have given up the idea of posing him on a flat surface – the silliness was way too big. Instead I have placed some “rocks” around him, which eliminated the feel of the floating Marine, and covered most of the gaps, and still looked, like he fell there a minute ago (at least I think so). All in all – it was a fun task to do and I have managed to achieve a pose that I was happy about. Apart from things I wrote above I have used this model to further show how hopeless he is in comparison to the Dreadnought (I know that he is dead, but I could have placed him face down, on his belly). He is lying on his back, with his gun lying out of of his reach, with his belly and head exposed. All of this shows who is the real threat on this scene, and it was my intention to show them in such a manner.
One of “those things” that made me really hyped about this character, was the fact that he is carrying an Assault Cannon, which I have dreamt about making myself. This wasn’t necessary thing to make, but I just couldn’t fight off the desire to make hollow barrels! Apart from those I have increased the weapon length, and added a laser targeter – rrRRAAAWwwwRR! Another minor conversion was done to his left arm, which I have re-posed to the side, which would provide him more balance through the terrain and of course his legs. Instead of using straight ones from the box, I have made him take a step forward. It was a pain to make those pistons from brass tubes, but instead of having a static mini, I have made a bit more dramatic look. I know that it took me lot’s of time. Moreover it’s possible that for some people those changes might not be visible at all, but for me those little changes add uniqueness to the model, and as I wrote before – that was one of the requirements given by my customer.
Of course the mini itself is only a part of the whole diorama. I can’t say if the most important one, but still – without the background it wouldn’t be possible to show what I intended to show. I think that I can honestly say that one couldn’t work without the other. I could have made a single miniature, but I would fail with storytelling without the rest of the composition. I wanted the background to be big. I have used the fact that Games Workshop removed size requirements for dioramas, and made it proper sized (I like bigger pieces) – I could have added a couple centimetres more, but that might have been an overkill. The background was made to show a couple of things. Firstly – an imitation of moonlight and secondly one’s task was to create a “wolf” themed base – forest, wolf silhouettes and an overall mood.
ELIMINATING THE UNNECESSARY – NO SNOW HERE!
I always begin by brainstorming the idea – trawling the internet for some wolf photos (Space Wolves are a “wolf themed” chapter). After creating a general concept in my mind and making some base mesurements and miniature test fitting, I have encountered a small issue, which made a particular process a bit more difficult. As some people noticed – there already was a Space Wolf diorama made, and it was made about one year before mine. This fact has placed me in a very unpleasant situation, of some one who is one step from copycatting someone else’s idea. As I had planned this diorama for some time now, I decided not to abandon this idea. Unfortunately I had to think all the time, about making mine as different as possible from the oither, as last thing I wanted, was to be called a stealer of someone else’s idea.
After checking with the internet, the idea was quite obvious – lot’s of wolves were photographed in their natural habitat – a forest. Lots of them in the winter. Winter; snow, lots of snow = fail. Sorry, but I just couldn’t figure how to create such amounts of snow, to cover trees, the base (trees are around 30 cm tall), miniatures AND tinting it to look like it was night time. I’m not saying that I didn’t know how to create snow, but I think that I would fail at creating believable snow on such large terrain. I have thought about this issue for the whole time I built the diorama and in the end I have decided that I wanted to create a night time mood more than to create snowscape. After over two months of work it would be too risky to add such amounts of snow, which could ruin the whole effect. Snow will have to wait for another project (preferably smaller). As I wrote before – I wanted to show a night time. Most scary things happen during the hours of darkness, so I thought that showing the mini in the dark forest would look cool. Also – night would somehow replace the lack of snow (those excuses). I’m far from saying that it’s not possible to show scary things on a bright scene, but for this project I decided to pick a limited cool palette, with some additions of warm tones here and there, and big contrasts.
I had a couple of ideas how to create the background, but in the end I decided to create a Fir forest. It is more sinister than leafy trees in my opinion, and more “wolfy” too. Also I couldn’t figure out how to create leafy trees before end of the year (cotton was out of the question that’s for sure! I have also picked fir trees, because I could create a dense area of branches near the ground. And I needed them to be able to paint that moonlight imitation.
Before I had the basic idea of the diorama in my mind, I knew that I wanted to name it “At Night They Howl”. The title obligated me to create more than one wolf. I didn’t want to add any models to the diorama itself, so I thought about placing some plasticard panels between the trees, and paint wolf silhouettes with glowing eyes on them, along with some creepy fog. I was very determined to create them, although I had very limited amount of time, so I left them for the very end (in fact I have made them one day before my trip to UK). As making photos of such large diorama isn’t an easy task, it’s hard to see what I had in mind. Tree trunks are brighter than the plasticard edges which are almost black, and stand out nicely on a dark background. Oh well – I think that I will make one more photoshoot in a couple of months, after Monte San Savino, and show the background properly – without Bjorn covering the whole screen!
That wolf pack theme was used on the banner as well. I wanted to paint a mass of wolves, with furious eyes, swarming their enemies. Also I have painted them with the direction of Bjorn’s movement, to enhance the feeling he is making a step forward, and creating the impression that his enemy is on his right side.
BOOSTING THE CONTRAST AND FORCING THE FOCAL POINT
As with my previous diorama “Point Of No Return“, I wanted to show the fact that the main character was standing in the middle of some scene, but it’s the character not the scene which makes the focal point. I know that previously I wrote that both elements – the character, and the scene are equally important. But I’m not saying that backgrounds role of making the main character stand out isn’t important, it’s very important, and it was one of major tasks to make Bjorn of the Space Wolves stand out. It wasn’t easy for sure. Mostly because of the limited palette. I have used almost the same base colours on both – the scene and Bjorn. I had to add other colours to Bjorn to make something a bit different, but just a tiny bit – I didn’t want them to be too aggresive. Having this in mind I decided to add another light source (apart from the “moon”), which I have placed at the upper right corner of the model. You can call it an explosion, or a Assault Cannon round, but I wanted to add a bit more warmth to Bjorn’s highlight.
As I was determined not to introduce new colours to the scene (apart from those I have picked up in the beginning), I have decided to leave scenery painting to almost only airbrush . Thanks to this I have received such level of detail that was suitable for a background, and the crispier detail on Bjorn would make him stand out more. I have treated scenery as blurred background which can be seen in many photos.
Another thing which helped me to achieve both depth, and contrast, was the usage of different black colours. I have used gloss blacks to show the darkest darks on the project, and tried to avoid black on other elements (instead I have used a mix of matt Navy Blue and black). Thanks to this I have tried to cope with the diorama’s size, and issues I had because of that (because of the size, and limited palette I had problems with contrast and depth). I have also added some glossy paints to the Dreadnought, as well as true metallic paints to his hull, weapon and some other details. I haven’t really painted true metallics, and I don’t know how he would look with them, but I like the TMM finish. Also I’m experimenting with different paints to make them more interesting, instead of just washing them. Apart from that I just like the bling-bling effect that they give, and thanks to it the main model stands out even more and still looks coherent with the scene.
I have used the size of the scene to place bigger elements to frame it, and attract viewers eyes to the middle. Those elements were mostly tree trunks (but also rocks and stumps) which were long enough to serve as a frame, and still look like they could have fallen there. I have tried to make every part unique so it would look natural. So I have prepared some dead trees, some rotten ones, which are lying on the ground, and of course – two tall trees that are in a good shape and health. While gluing those parts to the ground, I have paid attention to place them in most probable places for them to be (for example most of the Fir needles are placed under the trees etc). In my opinion such things help to imitate the real world, and even if not seen at first glimpse, as a whole they will make a good enviroment. I know that for some people the scene could look overcrowded with details, but it was my intention to create such an enviroment, which would suit the feral nature of the main character – a dense forest, like a sanctuary, which is not touched by a human hand.
LEARNING FROM YOUR MISTAKES IS PART OF THE JOURNEY
As with every project there are some flaws, but the thing which irritates me the most is always the photo shoot. Unfortunately I have managed to destroy some effects that I have tried to achieve. I’m aware that looking at photo doesn’t show the true project. Photos are modified, and are viewed on differently calibrated screens, and during different time of a day. I see a huge difference myself when I prepare photos for posting in the night/day time. I have also noticed that if I’m tired I tend to add much more contrast to the photos. But the thing that was poorly picked by me, was the black background, as it changed the final look drastically. I had a problem with photos of this project because of it’s size. Every background I had was much smaller, and I had no time at that moment to create a new large sheet, of suitable grey-scale background. Because of that I have made them in front of black piece of cloth.
I’m rather annoed because of that, because I feel that blacks on the diorama/miniature can’t compete with such large black surface, and the scene is literally eaten by that whole blackness around it. So instead of having some delicate greyish background, which would show the blacks properly, I have ended with having every black colour (and not only black), including the background, well just black. I have a feeling that every black part of each photo looks exactly the same. Oh well – next time I won’t make the same mistake that’s for sure. As I wrote before – after some tries I have decided that I like grey scale for background best. They are much more delicate than plain black, show blacks properly, and allow to repair colours displayed on photos if they require such treatment (unfortunately photos can vary even when made during one sitting). And they do all that without changing the look of the background.
Another issue is the lighting. I tend to be embarrassed when people look at my works in a different conditions that my own painting desk, because I feel that if my work isn’t displayed under a cold daylight, it looks not like it should. I just can’t make myself paint under a mix of two bulbs (warm/cool daylight), as I hate the warm tint that warm light gives.
As with every project – some things could have been done better, but overall I think that I have made almost everything I could (or rather everything my present skills let me do) to make it look as it does. I have managed to make some freehands, which I’m happy about, I like the colours, and the look of the scene.
In the end I’d like to thank my lovely family for their patience and support! Thumbs up to all of my fans for keeping me motivated during this project! (and others too!). There’s no better motivator than constructive criticism, attention from others or just a simple “good job”. I am always thoughtful about things which you tell to change/improve, and try to implement them in every new project. Big thanks for that! So once again – thumbs up to all of You, and see You soon!!
Paul “Monstroys” Makuch