Thursday, March 5, 2015

Painting Imperial Assault, Part 1: The Non-Uniques

I've had my eyes on Descent since before I got back into painting because of the quality of the miniatures. I still have yet to play, but it's a popular fantasy romp. When I heard about Imperial Assault, which is essentially bugfixed Descent + Star Wars, I think we all knew it was a matter of when and not if. It made a good Christmas gift to myself, and I think I started in on the miniatures the day after.

After cleaning up the miniatures, my next step was to think about basing. The tiles in Imperial Assault come in three fundamental types: badlands, forest, and indoor. It took some careful paint mixing to get the shades right, but I was able to match the badlands and forest ground color fairly well.

Even while I worked on it, though, I had some doubts. The game rules include the concept of "deployment groups," so for example, the nine Stormtrooper miniatures are deployed in groups of three. I thought that basing would be a good way to visually distinguish the groups. The more I got into it, however, the more I worried about a visual-story dissonance: badlands troopers would look kind of silly deployed in an imperial base, for example. I turned to Facebook to ask for some feedback, and two of my artist friends quickly responded with, essentially, "I'd just paint them black." It hurt a bit to undo the work that I had done, but I am also acutely aware of the sunk cost fallacy. On the positive side, this gave me the occasion to buy some Simple Green and try stripping. It worked well enough on the Imperial Assault miniatures and some other hard plastic ones that my sons wanted to repaint, but I was surprised at how poorly it worked on the handful of Bones miniatures we also threw in.

For the Stormtroopers, I followed the approach recommended on this BGG thread, namely, using a light basecoat and then highlighting the contours with greylining. All but one of the Stormtroopers was primed white, and after enough layers, you cannot really tell who was my black-prime test. The sequence of layers was a bit frustrating: I did the black after the greylining, but inevitably, I got black outside of where it should be, since it's all in recessed areas. The color I needed to clean this up was, essentially, the greylining shade. I switched the order for the gunners, as described below. I colored the shoulders of the units in order to distinguish between deployment groups. Painting nine nigh-identical Stormtroopers was a bit tedious, but I think they look great assembled together.

The probe droids started with a straightforward metallic drybrush on black primer. The two in the back were done together and were originally identical. The bronze color was achieved through two layers of ink, which did exactly what I hoped it would do. I had only recently built up my collection of inks, and it's been fun for me to experiment with inks alone as well as mixing inks and acrylic paints. I wasn't sure how to do the lenses, so I again followed the advice on the BGG thread, which is actually an old technique used for painting fantasy gems. I sat on the third probe droid for some time, trying to determine how to make it visually distinct from the other two. I ended up just giving it lighter tones all around, which, as you can see, is sufficient.

I am glad I am not the only one who is unclear on the pronunciation of "Trandoshan," but here they are. (I've fallen into the tran-DOH-shun camp, following on the lines that they are from planet Dosh. Thanks, Internet!) I did the yellow pair first and the brown-green ones a few weeks later. If anyone asks "How many layers of yellow did it take to paint these miniatures?" the answer is "One less than infinity." Clearly, the ones on the left are painted to look like Bossk, who, incidentally, is wearing an unaltered High-Altitude Windak High Pressure Suit designed for the Royal Air Force in 1962 (Thanks again, Internet!) I am pleased with the contrast between the smooth cloth suit and the rough, lizard-like skin. The photo does not really show it, but I also pulled some tricks with varnish here: the skin and metal bits are done with Liquitex Matte Varnish, which has more of a satin finish, and the cloth is done with Model Masters Acryl, which is flat/matte. The eyes and inside of the mouth are gloss varnished, and the effect is subtle but pleasing on the table.

If you look carefully, you'll see that the white flak jacket is painted slightly differently on the two deployment groups. On the right, I used the greylining technique as done on the Stormtroopers to bring out the contrast a bit more, whereas the left was done with pure layering. I prefer the ones on the right, as there's a bit more contrast. I have been thinking about contrast a lot lately and wondering if I should include it more deliberately in my painting. I find that I tend toward more gentle gradients that look good under my painting light, where sharper contrast may help the miniature read better from across the table. The Trandoshans are good example of this. All the yellows on the left two are very close to each other, even though I started with a medium brown and worked up from there. The two on the right, I tried more deliberately to separate shades and highlights, to what I believe is good effect. Of course, the colors are so vastly different that it might just be a matter of apples and oranges.

One last note on the Trandoshans: the yellow ones were the first in this batch where I was working deliberately with blacks. As I've mentioned before, black and white are challenging because you cannot shade black and you cannot highlight white. Yet, many of these Star Wars minis feature blacks and whites, Stormtroopers being the classic example. For the Trandoshans, I was careful to use shades of grey to highlight the backpack and cuffs, while trying to make them still "read" as black. This leads into the next set:

These Imperial Officers are wearing black suits, but again, they were painted in all shades of grey, with pure black only used in the deepest recesses and achieved with black ink. They are deployed individually, and so each had to be visually distinguishable from the rest. Since gloves are optional for Stormtrooper officers (wow, Internet, you have a lot of Star Wars information), I decided to have one gloved officer; his hair is also a mix of browns and greys, trying to make him look middle-aged, although the fact you cannot tell from the photo says it probably wasn't worth the effort. The Imperial Assault card art features Imperial Officers with trim goatees, so I decided to put facial hair on one officer to make him stand out. It works, but it also feels kind of strange to put a beard on a military officer. I don't remember seeing any facial hair throughout the Death Star. Anyway, it matches the card art, so we'll take it for now. I am pleased with how, again, the uniforms look black but still contain discernible highlights.

I believe it was while working on the royal guard that my wife pointed out how monochromatic the villains are. I suppose this reflects in the story as well: in the movies, these guys are scary looking soldiers that don't actually do much of anything. Red can be a tricky color to paint, but I am really happy with the result here. The shade layer is a mix of red and brown, going up to a main highlight color of flat red. For additional highlights, I use light shades of orange, but even knowing it's there, you cannot really see it: it simply looks like highlights. It's a bit hard to tell in the photo here, but the tips of their staffs are different, to make it clear that they are in two deployment groups of two. I also did some varnish tricks here, doing the helmets in the satiny Liquitex Matte Varnish and the robes in Model Masters Acryl flat. I was rather disappointed, however, to see how the Acryl muted the vibrancy of the reds. It's not just a matter of the helmets being more shiny: the actual tone of the red was taken down by the flat varnish. In future figures, after doing a bit of research, I've been thinning the Acryl with a little water. It's hard to say if this has changed it significantly, however, since no other figure has two sections that would otherwise be the same color but using the different varnishes.

These nexus are the only real monsters in the set, and so I was looking forward to painting them as a break from humanoids. Knowing there would certainly be some lore about them on the Internet, I looked them up, and I was disappointed to see that they come from the dreaded prequel trilogy. As much as I love painting, I wasn't sure I wanted to melt them down and mold them into some kind of baby rancors.

The fur is base coat, ink wash, and a few layers of drybrushing, with the stripes painted in sepia ink. My intention here was to try to shade the color of the fur rather than paint a stripe over it, and I think that worked. It probably would also have worked with regular paint, of course, but since it worked on one, I did it on the other. (Actually, in my first pass didn't go quite as well. The stripes were too far apart, and I tried adding highlights just to them. I ended up repainting them entirely to what you see in the photo.) The tails were done with the same basic approach I used about a year ago with my Mice and Mystics minis, using a flesh tone and a brown wash. The spines and claws were done in very dark browns, with varying varnishes again used to make the spines, eyes, and inside of the mouth shine. The mouth itself is done in dark purples, but looking at it here, it probably could have been brighter. Still, I'm happy with it, as it leaves the comically large mouth looking cavernous.

The Silliest Name in Imperial Assault Award goes to the E-Web Engineers. I ended up priming the gunner himself white while the gun, generator, and base were primed black. The gun was originally just layers of metallic drybrushing, but this looked drab after finishing the gunner, so I went back over several areas in the brighter steel color seen here. I have generally been working with black primer for the past several months, in part because I've been following a lot of the techniques from Dr. Faust's Painting Clinic. With these guys, I was reminded of how annoying white primer can be: it's easy to miss a seam between two colors, and so you get white spots are lines in what should be the darkest recesses. Unlike the Stormtroopers, where I used a basecoat and painted in the shadows, these were layered up from shade layer to highlight layer. It probably took longer per figure, but there were only two. As with the Stormtroopers, it was a good exercise in painting both blacks and whites. In case you're curious, these miniatures are deployed individually, and the only visual distinction between them is the readout on top of the generator: the one on the left has green details and the one on the right has red.

That's it for the non-unique Imperial Assault miniatures. Next up will be the unique heroes and villains, who are cleaned and primed but not yet started. I'll post a report when they're done. Who knows, maybe some day I'll even play the game.

Go to Painting Imperial Assault, Part 2: The Uniques