Thursday, February 16, 2012

Bases and Setting the Tone

I was originally going to update the previous post with images of the updated bases on my models, but, after performing the updates, I realized that I was stepping into a much larger world I had long forgotten about.  After experiencing something for the first time all over again, I wanted to share a bit about that experience .

After updating the base on that first Fire Warrior, I was heavily motivated to go back and add details to the Devilfish base that started this endeavor.  It was dead and bland.  I wanted the dead look... just not the bland.  This Tau Cadre, after all, was destined to contest any urban objective that might come along.  So, ruins were going to be seen on their bases.  Shattered remnants of what was once a  metropolis buzzing with life should convey that, though, right?  ...Or at the very least portray some sort of life in order to contrast with the background of death, correct?

Basing for this army has been a journey.  Some of you may remember seeing this as my first attempt at basing:

Very simple.  VERY simple.  Almost pointless.  Looking at this makes me cringe now.  But, that's the result of change is it not?

These bases were the product of going back after the fact and attempting to add details to bases that were already attached to the model.  These were Fire Warriors that had already been mounted and painted when I got them.  I had stripped the original paint and repainted them in my own scheme, but the bases needed an update as well.

Much has been said before about detailing bases either before or after painting the model, and the preferences thereof.  In fact, a good article can be seen >>here<< over at From The Warp. I suggest following the links and reading the comments below the articles as well.  They give a good insight into just how different each person views and performs the task. 

I myself, though, prefer getting the basics (setting, layout, feel, etc.) of the base done before I do the model.  Why?  I'm a details guy.  A person or thing is heavily defined by its surroundings.  In fact, a huge portion of that definition is the very interaction between the subject and those surroundings. This concept is what takes me back to a time over a decade ago when I was a budding artist.


Growing up, I was an artistic kid.  Some might say I was destined to be an artistic adult.  My claim to fame in the art world (...the very local, small town, art "world") was the level of detail I used.  I put a lot into my work.  Most importantly (to this post),  I was a huge stickler for the setting and background of my subject matter. Maybe its because I love sitting outside and just taking in everything around me or the fact that I stare into the sunset as I exit work everyday, but context is important to me.  Art teachers all the way from elementary school to college always gave the same reaction to my work: "Why so much detail in things that are not the focal point of the piece?"

I remember sitting at my kitchen table at 13 or 14 years old doing a painting for a competition my mother signed me up for.  The art had to depict a duck as it was a wildlife/hunting competition.  I spent hours and hours on the background of the painting, working my way from sky to horizon to background to midgournd to foreground.  All the while, I was painting over things that I had spent a lot of time perfecting  in order to put the next object on the canvas.  Once I put the actual duck on there, most of what I had spent so much time on was covered up, never to be seen again. 

My mother had been watching me every step of the way as she worked throughout the house and stopped to ask, "Why do you spend so much time painting things that others will never see?"  My response:  "When you stand outside and look out, there is sky behind the mountains, right?  There is ground behind that bush and dirt under that grass?  There is a whole world behind everything you do see that you may never see." My mom seemed pleased with the answer, as she just smiled and walked away, laundry basket in hand.

At the time, I thought it was simply an explanation.  But, now, as I was sitting doing bases for wargames miniatures at twice the age, I realized something.  It wasn't an explanation... it is my entire philosophy.


When I had a chance to do my own Fire Warriors from scratch, I started with the pose.  I picked out the pieces off the sprue that fit what I was wanting to portray and set them aside to manage the base.  A huge portion of that potential pose was where he would be located.  Much of the determining factor in what he would be doing was going to be settled by the terrain.  Is he walking along a broken wall?  Is he perched at a window? 

This is what I created:

A heap of rubble and the corner of a stone slab jutting into the air.  How would a person stand on this and what would they go there to do? 

In my mind, I saw a soldier using the rubble as a support in order to lean back with all of that heavy gear and look up into buildings or ruins.  He takes a moment to lift the weapon up and remove its weight from his supporting arm in order give it a momentary reprieve.  The concept was entirely generated from the location.  The base determined the model. 

I just had to go back and update those first two Fire Warriors' bases to match.

The setting determined the poses of the next two Fire Warriors.

And that last one brings us back full circle.  Once it was completed, a fundamental change was brought to my attention.  The details in the base for this model were far beyond what I had done for any of the others.  Five Fire Warriors in and I was beginning to show that obsessive need for details and context.

Next, I jumped into the base for the Devilfish.  A couple hours of fooling around produced this:

It was more like that first base I created myself with lots of rubble, but had the added detail of mud-soaked dirt and ash transfer over from that last Fire Warrior.  What is this, though?  Red-colored wood randomly in there?  I guess it was an inner cry for more. 

These bases were definitely presentable as they were, but something in me just could not take how bland the presentation was.  Yes, I was trying to make the camouflage I chose for the army make them blend in a little.  Yet, could I sacrifice presentation entirely to do so?  Part of the feel I wanted was for this army to be trudging through an destroyed urban environment.  A seemingly lifeless environment that life was now traversing.  But, there is a funny thing about death.  It is often followed by an explosion of life.  How better to show off the lifeless ruins than to show small pockets of life itself.

This is where the addition of grass comes in.  I wanted to show that the rubble had been there for a while.  It only made since to show more of nature reclaiming what once belonged to man (or some other sentient species in the case of this fictional universe). 

That little touch changes everything.  Here is a side-by-side comparison.

Despite the obvious camera and lighting differences,  you can see that the grass gives just a bit of a spark to the setting.  Still I didn't want to just add grass to every base.  I needed some variety.

Here is the updated Devilfish base:

The setting has been transformed from a bland pile of rubble to a location that has obviously seen no activity since it was destroyed.  By adding life, I made it seem more lifeless.   I created chaos from order and purpose.  It is a lesson I plan on showing I have learned in my future work.

The setting you choose for your bases can greatly influence the tone in which your models portray. The details you add can determine whether or not you were successful in portraying it.  What might seem as pointless to some can actually be a cause of great interest in others. 

Does your base make people want to look at your model in more detail?  Do they want to know what is behind that rock?  Will the viewers attention ever be drawn to the presentation enough for he/she to discover the small skull underneath your warrior's foot?  These are all questions you should ask yourself if you are worried about your models appearance.

I hope this has been more than just a ramble.  I wanted to share with you how I came to this point in my army project, and what my plans are going forward.  Also, I wanted to shed some light on things I am learning can make or break a base and the overall presentation of a model.

Until the next entry, may your surroundings give you context... in life and in modelling.


  1. Awesome article dude, its really given me food for thought my own tau bases. I'm going for a jungle theme so I think I'll go the opposite of what you have done. I'll have them flowing with life with elements of death in there.

    Thanks a lot man, I've racking my brain for weeks on this and you have answered it for me.

    1. Thanks, Ginger Kid!

      I wrote the post because of the frustrations along the way and what I was learning from the process. The fact that I was able to pass it on to someone else makes it totally worth it!

      I'm curious to see how bases using the reverse concept would turn out. I would eventually like to make a army with a jungle/forest theme as well, so I would love to see your work.

  2. As soon as I have one done I'll post it up on my blog admittedly I don't regularly update it on a regular basis but it shouldn't be long till there on there :-)