+ inload: Flow, rhythm and composition: army-building for impact +

+ Flow, rhythm and composition: building for impact +

'I love the smell of Calth in the morning. Smells like... victory.'

+ What makes Space Marines look awesome? Puny hu-mans next to them. But why? In this inload, we're going to have a look at (artistically) composing your figures – and how that can relate to the (structural) composition of your army. The idea is to make an army that not only plays well, but looks cool. +

+ As an illustration here, the next three Word Bearers are on the painting blocks, and accompanying them are some 'blessed' unfortunates. We'll kick off here with discussion of composing a squad. +

+ Framing figures +

+ When building squads, I always have to restrain myself from making every model very different and individualistic. Such an approach works well for disparate bands of specialists (such as Inquisitorial henchmen) or ragged rabbles like orks, but with Space Marines, you risk making things look too busy. For this reason, it's usually worth including a few figures in fairly restrained poses, like those above. These work as a frame for your more eye-catching focal figures. +

+ Note that restrained doesn't necessarily mean boring or dull. While these two figures share a basic pose – advancing and attacking – one is reloading on the move. A simple addition that adds some flavour without grabbing the attention. +

+ Note also the variety in helmet and pauldron styles. The figure on the left is showing the incipient signs of the corruption that will envelop his Legion; two teeth emerging from the bottom of the pauldron. This is to provide a visual link between the cleaner lines of the plainer Astartes to the full-bore monstrosities of the Gal Vorbak-based figures [VISREF: Below]. I don't mind a little gap – after all, these are meant to be collections of survivors that have made it into the tunnels, so some distinction between members is fitting (not to mention more interesting to make and paint). +

+ Word Bearer ripe in his corruption +

+ Focal figures +

+ Of course, a frame's pretty boring on its own, so a good squad will have two or three focal figures. I think people tend to have favourite models; generally created without much conscious thought – some combination of bits just seem to work better than others. It's common to load up the sergeant or specialist with extra bits or otherwise lavish more time and energy on them. These are focal figures, they're the ones that the framing figures serve. + 

+ If I have a 'trick', it's simply that I'm just as likely to lavish time and attention on regular grunts as specialists. This fella's a good example. There's nothing inherently different about this figure, but I've selected the parts a bit more carefully, perhaps used some more unusual bits, and generally spent a bit more time composing him. As a result, he's more eye-catching and interesting. +

+ This command group serve to frame the focal commander – but the framing figures aren't boring; just equal in impact to each other, and less than the commander. +

+ Proportions are important here. For a disciplined-looking force, I'd suggest a ratio of 1:4 focal to framing figures – that is, for every focal figure, you should have four framing figures. For more rambunctious-looking forces – orks, harlequins and the like – a ratio of 1:3 or 1:2 is more likely to get the idea across. +


+ Focal, frame and contrast +

+ Having looked briefly at how to make a striking group by distinguishing between framing and focal figures – now let's take that a stage further, and consider how that applies beyond the squad: across the army as a whole. +

+ Contrasts, in hue or tone or size or shape – or any of a thousand other options – are what catches people's attention. Too much is overwhelming, too little is dull. When building a squad, we decide that some figures are going to be the focal points, and others will play a supporting role. There is a sense of contrast created between the two groups, but there's enough similarity between them to create a blend so they look coherent. +

+ No framing/focal figures: All created equal – and thus no-one in particular grabs the eye. The group is elevated over the individuals – perfect for a team. +
+ All focal, no framing. A mix of colours, sizes, textures, and poses. The group is loosely tied together by a few common element including vertical lines (staves, banners, pointy hats etc.), a common muted palette and basing. +

+ It's clear here which are framing models, and which are focal. + 

+ Now, this is nothing new, and you probably already compose things unconsciously – those favourite models we mentioned earlier, for example. When building your army, we can just apply those same principles. Thus, when building a squad, we include some focal figures that are just a little different from the framing figures; and when building an army, we include some focal units alongside framing units. +

+ Composition and scale: Less is more +

+ Centrepiece HQs and tanks are a common concept – and they're an illustration of how the same compositional principles can be applied across an army. By including different squad types along with vehicles and characters, you create visual contrast. +

+ The infantry and vehicles contrast with one another. +
+ In this simple example – an Epic: Armageddon Support Company – the dominant vehicles are the focal figures; the infantry working to frame them. Being different from both focal and framing figures, the Dreadnought offers a complement to the group – similar to how accent colours work in a palette alongside the primary and secondary colours. +

+ The same applies at 40k scale. Here, the Ultramarines squads have both framing and focal figures (an example of the latter is Holion sheltering Cassie at the bottom right) within them at a micro level. At a macro level – that is, considering the platoon as a whole – the infantry all become framing figures, letting the Predator tank and Dreadnought sing out. +

+ Of course, if you look more closely, you'll pick out the focal members of the infantry squads again – but the thing to take away is that the army works on two levels: micro and macro. The principles are thus scaleable, and this can be borne in mind to make a more striking army. By holding something back when creating framing elements, you naturally make more of the focal elements. Less becomes more. +


+ Composition and rhythm +

Repeated elements form patterns. Frames turn out to contain focal features of their own. This concept can be thought of as 'rhythm'. A good painting – or army – has rhythm. +

+ Lucifer216's stellar Adeptus Mechanicus force is a great example of what I mean. Tanks and characters stand out from the infantry, but note that the infantry themselves are varied. Look closely (micro) and you pick out different squad types; but from tabletop (macro), the common palette helps them work together to frame the focal tanks and characters. Look at the tanks and characters as a group, and you'll see that the Dunewalkers cease to be the focus and instead frame the Archmagos. These overlaying points of view are an example of rhythm, and how it can be successfully applied to an army. +


+ Theoretical: illumination +

+ Compare the two forces below. One is more carefully composed than the other. Beyond that, they're very similar – both include Primarchs, walkers and infantry, there's roughly the same amount of figures... but one definitely looks more striking – and it's nothing to do with the colours or quality of the paintwork, but simply how they're arranged on the table. +

+ Low impact +

+ The Ultramarines here appear as an almost undifferentiated mass. There's no space between the figures on the board, so it's hard to pick out different groups. The naturally-focal figures – the Contemptor Dreadnought and Primarch – fail to stand out. +

+ Little rhythm is created, because there are no gaps; and little differentiation between frame and focus. Where focal figures do appear, they're swamped by the imbalance of framing figures, so the eye doesn't hop back and forth. +

+ A general sense of uniformity is created. Nice for certain effects, but it's not giving the drama we'd hope a game or display should have. +

+ High impact +

+ A variety of different sizes here, structured and separated by visual breaks. Infantry, war engines (rapiers, robots) and a large centrepiece (Leviathan Dreadnought) create three tiers of interest, so the eye hops between the groups. +

+ Rhythm is created by repetition – six groups of infantry; three robots; two rapiers. Within each group, there are points of interest. There are different types of infantry; differences in pose and armament of the robots. The eye hops, and lingers, and moves again. The mind recognises patterns and repetition. +

+ Whether in-game or simply for display, having a nicely composed army will improve the look of our collection. +

+ Practical: application +

+ All very well in theory, but what are some practical steps to we take to use this information? Here are some starting points for you to consider.

  • When planning your army, think in terms of focal and framing rather than 'normal' army composition rules.
  • Decide what the main focus will be (i.e. pick a particular focal unit to be your centrepiece).
  • Leave your centrepiece unique – don't have a competing figure.
  • Maintain a proportion of at least three framing units to each focal unit. It's hard to have too much framing, but easy to have too many focal units competing for attention.
    • Remember that framing units doesn't mean boring – they can be exciting and varied within themselves, too.
  • Include a variety of sizes of figures – infantry, medium vehicles and large vehicles/infantry, cavalry, war engines.
    • Within each group, aim to create internal variety, rhythm and repetition.
  • Look at each unit from a micro perspective, and your army from a macro perspective. Does the balance feel right?
+ As in any analysis, these terms – rhythm, repetition, focus, frame – are simply aids to understanding. They're ways to help you identify and discuss things we often already know instinctively. There's no need to get caught up in them; but if you're trying to work out why your collection of beautiful figures doesn't quite hang together, you might look at your army composition. +

+ inload: Las Vegas Open reveal +

+ Regular inloaders will be aware of the... rather leisurely approach to things on + Death of a Rubricist +. I'm currently chewing my way through a breaking release boardgame from – *checks notes* – 2015, so I can't imagine too many of you pop in here for the latest breaking news. However, Games Workshop has revealed some awesome stuff at the latest Las Vegas Open day, and I wanted to froth about them a bit. +

+ Alien Wars and the Augustine Crusade +

+ The recent release of the Ambull (amongst other retrohammer goodies) should have given us all a nod that this was on its way, but I didn't think the zoat was going to look this awesome. +

+ Big scary aliens battling beleaguered Guardsmen and brave Astartes are one of the two most important and iconic themes in 40k for me (the other being the Law/Chaos split), and the reason I started The Alien Wars project [+REF: banner above to requisition further information+]. Along with the Krell that I'm working on, this Zoat is a sure-fire thing for me to pick up. Just hope the pricing is a bit less than the Ambull box... +

+ This year I'm aiming to be hobby neutral (i.e. paint more than I buy!), so while I wait for the Zoat to be released, I'll be cracking on with some new Lamb's Worlders. +

+ New aliens, after all, require new heroes to battle them; so Caef Whittaker [PICTREF: above] will need his reinforcements sooner than ever. While Whittaker here will be firmly rooted in M36, along with the Nova Terra Interregnum, the remainder of the force will be doing double-duty for the Augustine Crusade. +

+ Chocks away! +

+ Speaking of the Augustine Crusade, I was very lucky to receive Aeronautica Imperialis as a Christmas gift, so I've been enjoying putting the models together. The new models are considerably larger – perhaps an extra third or more. Since the new version is a hex-based wargame, they wouldn't be incompatible. If you've got the old models (or the still-smaller Epic metal versions), they'll work nicely. If not, I'd thoroughly recommend the new ones. The casts are crisp, and they assemble beautifully. +

+ I'd played the old card-based version of the game – it worked a little like X-wing, for those familiar with it. Long-time inloaders may recall Captain T'Moro of the Starfire Skybears [+noosphericinloadlink embedded+]. I can't decide whether to paint these up as Skybears, or go for a new, different scheme to explore the Red Hand Region. +

+ Fighta-bommas! These are hugely characterful, and mix and match very nicely. I'd thoroughly recommend building them as a pair, and swapping bits between. The turrets would magnetise nicely, too, if you've got any bits left over from Titans. +


+ Talking of Titans, news on the Specialist Games from LVO was notable by its absence. I'm assuming that's because this was just a main studio reveal, and we'll have some Specialist Games news on my beloved Adeptus Titanicus sometime around the Forge World Open Day. +

+ As the very aesthetic of the blog suggests, I've loved the Adeptus Mechanicus since the creepy Techpriest images from Rogue Trader, and while the release of the Skitarii army didn't quite get the balance between 'forbidden technology' and 'obsessive priest' right for me, the kits just keep on improving. +

+ With these cyber-cowboy Rough Riders, I think they've hooked me. I've a soft spot for cavalry, and these just look awesome! +


+ Bits plea +

+ Finally for today, anyone got any of these going begging? If so, please get in contact on the Facebook group [+noosphericinloadlink embedded+], and I'll see what I can find to trade. +

+ inload: By the blade of an ally +

+ One last push, and the first Word Bearers for Betrayal at Calth will be ready – just basing and Legion markings to go. However, I'm going to try and do those all in one fell swoop, to ensure some consistency. For the moment, then, this is as far as they'll go – I'll move on to building some new ones now. +

+ Kurtha Sedd, of the Third Hand +

+ I wanted to do a brown leather cloak, then decided a patterned interior lining would look nice. It needs a little polishing, but I thought a Mesopotamian fishscale pattern might be fun. It suggests a slightly different cultural touchstone to those normally associated with the Word Bearers (and Astartes in general); and as a little added touch, suggests the sea, and the underworld. + 

+ The rear of the cloak was painted as battered leather – lots of browns, stippling and washes. +

+ The lower leg shows a good example of the Word Bearer's distinctive inlaid constellation patterns. Fun to paint! I've used a complementary orange for the plasma pistol glow so that it draws the eye to the centre of the figure, but doesn't completely draw attention away from the focal point of the head.  +


+ Kimon of the Inscribed +

+ This figure was a test colour scheme, and came out much brighter than the others – more akin to my Blood Angels. I've gone back and used some glazes to match him better to his brothers. Hi loincloth was painted with the same technique and colours as Sedd's leather cloak. +

+ Simple rear view, showing the slight tweaks to the Primaris armour. I sometimes fill in the curve left by trimming away the 'ankle ball', but here I quite like the fact it echoes the Word Bearer's inscribed markings. You'll note I incorporate it into a lot of these figure's freehand. +


Mugla of the Blasted Cedar +

+ Sometime you have a model you like; sometimes a model grows on you. I wasn't too fussed about this figure when I'd built him, but the eyes and blade came out really well to give him a really mean appearance – happy accidents, I guess. +

+ Another rear shot. Not too interesting, these buttplates, so this is the last one of the inload. +

+ Mekholta Dmalachi, Twiceborn of the Blasted Cedar +

+ An older figure, this chap has received some additional glazing (the original highlighting was verging on pink) to fit him nicely alongside the others. +


+ Bac Vorkar of the Third Hand +

+ This Legionary has appeared before on the blog, but here you can see the transfer applied. I'm... not convinced. It looks so utterly at odds with the rest of the scheme, I think I'll remove it and freehand the markings. +


+ Vannis Gen of the Inscribed +

+ Another figure that has received only minor tweaks, you can see that the ankle bits have been filled in on this figure; giving me the space to try some different patterns. +

+ inload: Betrayal at Calth baddies +

+ Word Bearers +

+ The start of a new year can make it hard to get back into the swing of things; and nowhere more so than your hobby. I avoid forcing myself to paint, build or convert – after all, it's not a job – but when the muse strikes, dive back in. +

+ I ended up with that magical confluence of time, energy and enthusiasm last night, and cracked on with the Word Bearers I'm building for the Betrayal at Calth boardgame. I'm now pretty happy with the red on these two, so it's onwards to details next. +

+ Kurtha Sedd of the Third Hand +
 + Eartha Kitt – I'm sorry, Kurtha Sedd – is ticking over nicely. Again, I've really enjoyed freehand detailing the Colchisian constellations (or whatever they are). While it's quite time-consuming, it's very engaging – I had to stop myself from doing too much! In terms of the rest of the scheme, I think I'm going to do the cloak in a muted brown leather. I'm tempted by a brighter contrast, but think that underplaying the 'costume' aspect in favour of battlefield practicality will help make these more convincing villains. +

+ Mugla of the Blasted Cedar +

+ The same applies to this marine – red's pretty much done, so it's all downhill from here. Note the beginning of transition on the combat blade – achieved simply by using a clean, dry brush to lift out a little of the wet paint in areas. +

+ A couple of group shots, showing the Word Bearers as they currently stand. Need to work out a basing scheme... probably the same as my Ultramarines. +

+ inload: Family gaming +

+ Stentorous wailings of the warhorn +

+ Another annual cycle – and time for me to say thanks again for reading this little noospheric node. Long-form blogs have been on the wane as people pick up podcasts and videos or switch over to social media, but I think there's always going to be a little place for some longer or more considered reading. + 

+ With that in mind, I hope you'll keep the autodial attuned to this signal, and send back a pip in the commentary exload form at the bottom occasionally – it's always much appreciated. +





+ Cycles +

+ In the exploratory and discursive spirit of the blog, let's crash on into the new year. Hobbying, as for many over Christmas and New Year, has been scanty, but the year did kick off with an awesome game. My brother and nephew popped over for a scrap, so I set up the boards and was treated to a fantastic looking match between Waa-Zodwort and the forces of the Ultramarines. +

+ I had intended to do a proper battle report, but sadly had my hands full doing rules-running, so you'll have to make do with a few hasty notes! +

+ Always a big fan of scratch-building and creative junk modelling, he also brought along some great barricades, including these pallets and barrels, which we mixed and matched with my scenery. The mission was a variation on The Raid, with three mysterious archeotech droids (played by tinboyz) the object of interest – ork mek Ghibtsun wanting to use the droids to stage gladiatorial combats between the tribe and the ancient silver droid corpses that dot the surface of the planet, Wintermute. Conversely, Captain Jansen of the Ultramarines needed to capture them to study – and destroy. +

+ Seeing these gits back on the table was a real treat for me, and brought back lots of cool memories. The warboss with spiked helmet here is Zodwort himself, accompanied by his retinue of oddboyz, and Jippy the squig. +

+ Much of Waa-Zodwort dates back to when we'd play orks vs. guard in the early nineties – and I'm pleased to see that Aliss Koopa here has finally allowed the rest of his band to get painted up in a classic vibrant scheme. +

+ These mobs of grots and boyz show some of the variety on display; and I think go to show that orks – perhaps more than any other army – just look better and better the older and wider the range of models you use. +

+ To give an epic flavour to proceedings, we added thirty of my orks [+noosphericinloadlink embedded+] and two squads of my own Ultramarines [+noosphericinloadlink embedded+] – I always feel games are improved by having more 'basic dudes'; firstly because it looks good, and secondly it gives your super-killy tanks and heroes/villains some mooks to mulch through. +

+ Note my nephew's awesome Land Raider – scratchbuilt from cork and with some really creative use of bits – the forward vision slit is from the most recent Space Hulk – it's a door base. +

+ Waa-ork! Goffs iz best! The lads bundle forward towards the beekees. I'm hoping my brother with do a guestinload at some point, so we can get some better shots of his brilliant conversions and scratchbuilds, like the Bonebreaka in the full table image, and the Lungbursta here. +

+ Orks that survive the Ultramarines hail of fire hunker down behind some crates, counting on the kans clanking and stomping up the avenue to break the deadlock. +

+ But the Ultramarines hold firm! The game finished with the ork horde heavily thinned out and the Ultramarines all but untouched – but nevertheless the mission-critical targets were still split. +

+ Again, a great way to start the new year, and a delight to host. +


+ The Augustine Crusade +

+ After a fallow period over Christmas, I'm ramping back up with this. If you missed the overview of the Ynwirm Campaign going up over the break, here's the link: [+noosphericinloadlink embedded+] +

+ Enthusiasm is high, and I've got some exciting bits from the inimitable Victoria Miniatures to buoy me along. +

+ Happy annual cycle, and best wishes for your hobby. +