[Read and Respond] Porky on Poseability – ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Grimdark’

Let it be known that once thy comment doth exceed in length the post upon which it is made, and demand illustration through example, thy comment be not a fitting comment, but a post in its own right, for thine own blog and not the comments section of thy peer.

Porky said some things about Oldhammer and Newhammer and the evolution or perhaps devolution of miniatures and the technology of miniatures, and I’d like to explore some of those ideas with illustrations.

Personally, I think it’s also about assembly, and the range of options in a kit. I think we could propose a simple rule: all else being equal, the more poseable a miniature, the more formless any given finished effect, and maybe the more gormless in appearance.

That’s a difficult rule to disagree with, not because I think it’s right but because of the ‘all else being equal’ qualifier and the obvious subjectivity of ‘formless’ and ‘gormless’. I’m going to take ‘form’ as having something to do with consistency, visual and tactile solidity, and implied weight or impact or presence. I’m going to take ‘gorm’ as implied presence of mind – this model is posed in some way that evokes an actual living thing rather than an inert piece of plastic, but it has to actually look like it’s doing something plausible rather than just standing around not doing very much or worse, looking actively awkward, vacant or stupid.

With that in mind, let’s do an analsis – I mean, look at some examples.

I’ll be charitable to these chaps. They have form. They occupy a space and they’re very definite in their presence. They are simple, they are solid, and they clearly denote the presence of a Chaos Warrior. That’s about all I have to say in their favour. They are also blocky, dull, and are just standing around holding their weapons nonchalantly. They’re like board game pieces; they don’t evoke a Chaos Warrior, they simply indicate where one is. Hell, if you weren’t prepared to cut new slots in their bases, they wouldn’t even face the right way (or rank up when they did unless you carefully alternated their placements). I find them formful but gormless.

Here we have their replacements, the multi-part late-nineties specimens. These chaps are more visually interesting and have a certain heft about them, though it’s true (I think) that the artificial stance of the previous Warriors lends them a bit more… solidity, I suppose? However, the mysteriously squatting legs (which seem to afflict a whole generation of GW multi-part plastics) rob them of a little dignity and it’s all too easy to overdo it on the mutations, or to notice the weird bloating when comparing bare heads and arms from the Mutation sprue to the size of the helmets and arms from the Warriors. What’s wrong with that? Were those parts originally designed for Chaos Space Marines and shoehorned in to a kit where they don’t belong? Are the Warriors themselves weirdly proportioned, with their hunches and their tiny heads and their turtle-like neck-thrusts? What do we think? Formless, gormless or both? I had a sense of certainty at the start, now I’m not so sure.

By way of a final example, let’s check out some of the current range.

They certainly have form. They occupy a lot of space and they have a sense of menace about them, a sense of weight and presence, which might be given the lie when you pick them up and realise they’re plastic. That said, they’re closed in on themselves. They march in step. They have to be if they’re going to fit into a unit. Despite the different weapons, heads, shields and other ironmongery, they’re not actually very… Chaotic. Plus, they’re just sort of holding their weapons, like the fourth edition ones. I suppose they at least look like they’re trudging grimly into battle, which is nice for display purposes and deployment, but strangely non-evocative – again, they denote rather than connote a Chaos Warrior. They show where one is without really showing how one is.

Let’s have a look at some stuff from a different range, which illustrates another dimension to this whole issue. Multi-part, in Workshopland at least, generally means ‘plastic’, and ‘plastic vs. metal’ is an ancient piece of false binary bullshit that I’d really rather not involve myself in, but I suppose I’ll have to at this point. I generally come down in favour of plastic – weight is a factor when one walks or cycles everywhere, as is the ornery nature of superglue and the crucial factor of modelling (of which more later). However, much as I like to sneer at vague feelings, there is something more satisfying about hefting a metal model than a plastic one. There is a palpable sense of solidity and presence and form there; I don’t know if it’s just the physical weight, or the idea that plastic is disposable and modern and fake while metal is honest and old-school and enduring. Let’s have a look at these lads.

http://derfeldmarschall.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/von-carstein-army-armored-skeletons.html
http://brownk29.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/army-focus-warhammer-vampire-counts.html

Metal and plastic Skeletons from the mid-Nineties. I cherish both of these for very different reasons.

Put down a unit of metal Armoured Skeletons with their coffin lid shields and there’s a sense of the static and the immobile about them that’s rendered interesting by the range of details on models which still share a pose. They all look the same (pose) and yet they look different (details). Put down a unit of Ghouls beside them and there’s a sense of the wild and primal which belies the fact that there’s only six different models in there – six different poses as opposed to one pose for a unit says a great deal. Those metal lads are much more to my liking IF I’m going to build a unit as it comes and accept the designer’s vision as definitive.

It is harder to achieve a sense of form with the plastic models. They never quite look consistent, they never quite look strong. However, I built an army out of them and not the metal ones because a) they were far more affordable and b) they encouraged and invited conversion in a way that the metals didn’t. This is the huge point which I think Porky’s missed.

Why? Because scope for poseability implies leftover freedom, space that to a degree someone other than the sculptor has to mitigate. This pragmatic blend in the name of choice conveys a less pure vision. If everything is possible, does anything carry weight?

I’d argue that leaving some freedom for the modeller and gamer to take ownership of their collection – sharing the vision, as it were – is one of the great strengths of the GW range. I’d also argue that posable plastics are much, much easier to take ownership of than single-pose metals. Poseability means you can choose which parts to add, combine kits with ease, and you seldom have to painstakingly whittle away chunky metal elements that are joined to one another in several detailed places; plastic is easy to cut and reposition and the glue moulds parts together. You seldom need to pin for load-bearing unless something’s very fragile.

This idea of design space that’s left implicit within a kit is crucial in creating a sense of agency and ownership. If anything is possible we have to decide what carries weight, we have to exert ourselves on our medium. I think the kitbashed armies I’ve done have weight and impact, albeit of a different kind to the single-piece models I’ve discussed above. I took the sculptor’s vision and saw the spaces that they’d left and found something to exploit and extend and make mine in a way that nothing out of the box would have done, and in a way that I wouldn’t have felt encouraged or invited to do had those models been solid pieces of definitive, defined, detailed white metal.

However, there’s definitely a kind of multi-part kit which actively frustrates the modeller. I’m thinking here of those kits where every possible weapon option for two unit types has to be worked in somehow. Those kits often feature separate arms and hands. Some of those arms have to work with a gun, or with a sword and board, or with a double-handed weapon, resulting in weirdly jointed and placed designs that work equally badly for any of them. Often, there’ll be a double-handed weapon that needs to join to arms that need to join to shoulders – that’s four joins to manage and which all need to fit and flow together for the model’s pose to look natural.

There’s also a kind of kit which might as well not be multi-part at all; I feel that way about the current Chaos Warriors. For all the good that choosing a helmet or a weapon or a shield does, it’s still essentially doing the same thing and it still looks crap with a halberd just slammed into the same wrists and held horizontally. I’ve done great things with those kits, in the past, and maybe one day I will do so again, but it was chuffing hard work – but it was work that I wouldn’t have felt able to do if they were single-part models.

If you were expecting some sort of conclusion, I’m sorry to disappoint you. This has been me thinking aloud, in more words than are appropriate for a blog post (roughly twice as many). You knew the risks when you joined up.