Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ten Thunder Archer Helms (At Last)

I love the Ten Thunder Archers. Their garb almost perfectly matches traditional ceremonial Japanese archery, their poses are dynamic, and the level of detail is marvelous. I have, despite this, one problem with them. Their helmets are most frequently shown to be, I believe, painted metal. Even their art card has a weird blue-teal-grey colour which is certainly accented like it were metal.

Link from

The problem is; there's no way an archer who is entirely otherwise unarmoured has a massive metal headplate. It's not practical, in my opinion.

While it is similar to traditional Japanese cone-hats, it's not conical, and therefore, wouldn't be made by woven reeds, as would be the case traditionally. What then, is a somewhat obsessive model painter to do?

Well, I figured wood would be a good solution. It's lighter than metal for the same density, and cut properly, would provide all the protection an archer would need from an overhand blow to the skull. First job, as always, was seeking out inspiration. How could a devoted modeler ever figure out the exact variegation and pattern of wood cut to a flattened-domed shape? I just so happened to luck out in the form of serving bowls we have here at the house.
Almost like it was meant to be for this!
After a bit of study, observing how the angles came together, I base-coated the helmets with Steel Legion Drab (Citadel paints). This was followed with a mix of it and Pale Sand (Vallejo 70837).

This was mostly just to get the shapes in, but using a thinned-down coat and lightly feathering the paint on to the helm made it pretty close to what I wanted in the first run. Following the bowl, and the idea that wood is harder to chop through against the grain, you can see two of the three have helms cut that way. The third is different mostly for variety, but also it's more an angled cut than a straight through, hence the width of the grain. I took effort to make the rings connect from left to right side, and the closer it got to the top, the more variance I threw in to stop it being perfectly circular. This will really help the wood feel more natural, since real wood is rarely if ever consistently thick throughout the entire piece.

The effect was, however, a bit paler than I was hoping to achieve, so I followed this up, once it was dry, with a glaze/wash mix of Agrax Earthshade (is there anything it can't do?) and Vallejo Ochre Brown (70856).

I applied this relatively thickly, but made sure it didn't pool anywhere by pulling it back off using a dry brush if it did pool. The eye symbol on the front also received a wash of straight Agrax Earthshade just to really pull it out in detail.

After this had thoroughly dried, I re-highlighted with the 50/50 Steel Legion Drab and Pale Sand from before, focusing on the upper edges of the rings, and where it approached the top, I applied it in an almost hatching-pattern, applied over a section and quickly dabbed with my finger to mitigate how strong it looked.

The big advantage of this method of wood painting is that, due to a combination of physics and chemistry of paint, it does start to take on the effect of wood. Since real wood has more-opaque rings gapped by more-translucent, darker sections, cut into a curve you will see the 'darker' sections receding. Painting the darkest sections first, and having a glaze/wash halfway through, adds an incredibly subtle, almost-imperceptible 3d effect to the paint, which the eye reads in a similar way to wood. It also helps that the smooth, large area of helmet, and semi-matte finish of the paint allows it to shine like wood that's been well buffed, but not necessarily varnished.

Now I just have to finish their tattoos to a similar level of detail, finish the patterning of their clothes, and convincingly paint their bases, all without damaging what I've already done to their helms... If it works, you'll see the fruits of my labour next week!

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