Wednesday 29 July 2020

"Never get out of the boat."

If there was a plan to this somewhat frivolous diversion of mine then it was to have posted some work in progress shots of a terrain piece that I had been working on as part of Dave Stone's, 'Summer of Scenery Challenge'.  Unfortunately I have been diverted from my diversion by this, quite wonderful, 'Empress Miniatures' PBR, which has rather taken over proceedings.  I had seen that this was in the pipeline and decided that it was going to be an end of academic year treat to myself, so as soon as it was available, I ordered up the full kit along with the crew, sculpted by Paul Hicks, all wonderful likenesses for the characters from Apocalypse Now.
I had shown a couple of teaser photographs in earlier posts, but it is probably worth mentioning again here that this is an amazing body of parts, but took an age to assemble.  With no instructions you really are left to make your own decisions, which can be quite daunting, but I was keen to base mine on the boat from the film and so was fortunate that there were plenty of stock images to work with.  This meant dispensing with the 40mm Mk. 18 Grenade Launcher, for example, normally situated on the amidships engine compartment shield.  
Just preparing and siting the eight tiny cleats saw me scrabbling around on hands and needs, muttering the occasional strong word, as I tried to locate the latest escapee that fled for the apparent safety of the carpet pile! Other noteworthy incidents involved me snapping off the 'cast' rope that was to hold one of the tires to the side of the boat. This turned out to be somewhat fortuitous as I realised that the metal rope was too thick to wrap around the aforementioned cleat and so snipped it away from all the other tires and replaced it with some thin wire, which could be affixed as intended.
The kit comes with some wonderful extras such as Lance's surfboard, purloined from the Air Cavalry, even Mr. Clean's boombox.  To these I added some stowage and fuel drums, even a aerial fashioned from the Saintly Mrs. Awdry's dustpan and brush set, the fact that I had to ask where she kept it wasn't lost on her. 
As fiddly as the kit of parts was, I stuck with it and as soon as it received an undercoat of paint was delighted that I had.  Instantly brought together with the green and grey primer, the piece really started to look the part and I couldn't wait to paint it, all previous plans abandoned in a heartbeat.
Given that Lance, the forward gunner, needed to be sited before fixing the guns in place, I decided to paint the crew first.  Again, Paul Hicks has done a superb job with the miniatures, wonderful likenesses and some great touches, like Chef's cigarettes tucked into his T-shirt sleeve.  Captain Willard initially held a greater likeness to the chiselled features of Martin Sheen, but it would appear that in my haste to prepare them, I had run my file across his face, reducing his nose to one any heavyweight boxer would be happy to sport!  With regards to colour it was simply more green, but items like Willard's tiger stripe trousers and the shoulder patches of some of the crew offered a little more variety to the palette.
On to the boat itself and I followed, pretty much, the same process that I used for the WWII Sherman tanks earlier in the year.  A pin wash of Vallejo Cavalry Brown around the metalwork was followed up by a number of washes and dry brushed highlights.  Picking out a few details with the brush helped to lift the overall effect, with some gloss varnish applied to the lamps to hint at the reflective glass.  The lettering looked a lot tidier in real life than it does in these photographs, a sad symptom of my failing eyesight, but it still helps to complete the look.  The crew are pinned, but not glued in place, allowing them to be repositioned or swivelled and similarly, I couldn't bring myself to glue down the canopy, which remains precariously balanced as I write this.
I really couldn't be happier with the finished piece and instantly decided that I needed to set up some terrain to take some photographs, much to the annoyance of the Saintly Mrs. Awdry, whose dining table became an uncharted river for the the craft to patrol.  I stopped short of releasing a smoke grenade, not that I had one to hand you understand,  deciding instead that some subtle use photo editing was the way to go...
Purple Haze?

Monday 27 July 2020

"We've gotta keep our heads until this peace craze blows over."

As promised I present for your delectation these rather splendid sculpts from 'Empress Miniatures', undoubtedly the catalyst for this recent sojourn in country.  The work of Paul Hicks Esq. they represent four of the characters from Stanley Kubrick's 1987 film, Full Metal Jacket, Joker, Cowboy, 8-Ball and Animal Mother.
This episodic, seemingly two part, retelling of the Vietnam War details the cruel debasement of the raw recruits at the hands of their Drill Instructor giving way to the ferocious street fighting in the wake of the Tet offensive and remains oddly compelling to this day. 

Likenesses aside, the miniatures are top quality with stacks of little details and fully equipped with web gear and armaments appropriate to the Corps at the time.  It has certainly helped cutting my teeth with the earlier miniatures as I now feel a little more comfortable at recognising the different elements, making painting a lot more enjoyable.
With regards to painting, green is once again the order of the day with the occasion highlight or shadows created with some 'Games Workshop' washes.  Where possible I would indulge in the odd detail or two, but ultimately the goal was to keep it simple and clean. 
Joker, Cowboy, 8-Ball and Animal Mother have certainly helped to swell the ranks of the Free World forces and cemented my desire to continue with this diversion a little longer.  Coming up I have some North Vietnamese Army, again from 'Empress Miniatures' to act as opposition and I have also made a start on a piece of terrain as part of Dave Stone's, 'Summer of Scenery Challenge'.  Then, of course there is the PBR, which I spent assembling and detailing the other day.  Last count there were at least 50 separate elements and that didn't include the crew!  

Monday 20 July 2020

"I'm still only in Saigon."

Having hinted that this post might have reference to Stanley Kubrick's work, I am acutely aware that I have served up a helping of Francis Ford Coppola instead!   Rest assured, gentle reader that the likes of Joker, Cowboy and Animal Mother are inbound, but first a collection of miniatures reminiscent of characters from, Apocalypse Now.
Young, Master Awdry was left confused and bewildered after his first viewing of the widely acclaimed masterpiece.  Now more aware of the subtle nuances, there is a greater appreciation of the Director's vision, one that seemingly increases with age.  Not to get bogged down in a hackneyed review here, I shall move, swiftly on to the miniatures themselves.  Three character pieces from three different manufactures, the first from 'Wargames Illustrated', Giants in Miniature range.  Listed as Lieutenant Colonel Will Killmore, there is no mistaking the likeness for the surfing aficionado, Lieutenant Colonel William "Bill" Kilgore.  One of the more memorable characters from the film, with his often misquoted monologue ending with the immortal line...
Smelled like victory.
Next up a manic American photojournalist, portrayed in the film by Dennis Hopper, with this version available through 'The Assault Group'.  It is interesting to see the development of sculpting and casting in comparison to the other, more recent efforts, but that doesn't make this offering any less enjoyable.  In fact of the three, this proved my favourite to paint, not least because of the opportunity to try and replicate the tiger stripe camouflage effect.
Finally a sculpt available from 'Studio Miniatures' listed as Abel Kane, a possible leader for their Street Gangs range.  On closer examination this is a wonderful likeness of the infamous Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, as portrayed by Marlon Brando.
Kurtz being the target of the operation as a Special Forces officer that goes rogue, running his own unit based in Cambodia and feared as much by the U.S. military as by the North Vietnamese and Vietcong.
Purely as an aside, I have treated myself to the rather wonderful PBR from 'Empress Miniatures'.  Pure indulgence, but I included the crew, so expect more Apocalypse Now, before the end of the summer! 

Thursday 16 July 2020

"I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy;

we fought ourselves. And the enemy... was in us."
A huge thank you to all those that suggested ideas for rules systems for the 'In Country' project.  At the moment, I am looking at Fistful of Lead, which looks as if it will meet many of the initial requirements, certainly from the point of view of fewer miniatures and quick, intuitive play.  I will keep you posted as I start to roll dice in anger. 
In the interim, I have been enjoying some painting time as a way of relaxing into the summer holiday and have managed to complete a number of movie related miniatures, the first of which I present here.
Bearing a striking resemblance to Staff Sergeant Barnes and Chris Taylor from Oliver Stone's Oscar winning film Platoon, Sgt. Burns & PFC Noble are from the 'Wargames Illustrated' Giants in Miniature range.  Added to the group is a character miniature from the 'Assault Group', completing the unholy trinity as a stand in for Sergeant Elias.  It's interesting seeing the three together and the discrepancies in scale, not something that seems to worry me unduly anymore. 
Given that these were my first foray in to 'Nam, the realisation suddenly dawned with regards to just how little, I actually knew about the era, uniforms and combatants.  Falling back on the idea that this was to be a flavour of the cinematic world of the Vietnam conflict, as opposed to a historic representation, I brushed aside the often crippling considerations to palette and reached for the green, lashings of it!  Washes were employed for shadows and an occasional highlight helped to pick out a detail or two and before I knew it the first three were done.
Expect more in due course, perhaps something inspired by Stanley Kubrick's work?

Saturday 11 July 2020

What rules?

My apologies one and all, the end of any academic year is always a challenging time, but this year was even more frenetic.  Virtual assemblies and farewells, reports and administrative tasks, there was even some time for teaching!  Suffice to say, time was a precious commodity and it was inevitable that something had to be sacrificed and, sadly, it was this most humble of weblogs.
That's not to say that I haven't been tinkering around in the shadows, but things are about to go a little off piste.  The Battle for Schloss Itter was, and still is, a massive undertaking and one that James and I are committed to bringing to the conclusion it deserves.  Just before the end of term we managed to reunite the castle structure with its base board in a hope to finish off the last details before photographing the completed boards over the summer.  The plan was to work on it in the evenings of the final week at school, but I just didn't have the time and now, having returned to the Sunshine Coast and the sanctuary of Awdry Towers, the project remains unfinished.  If I am honest, I simply needed a break and that's what I have decided to do.
I have resolved to catch up with some long overdue posts of miniatures started over a year ago as well as indulge in a diversion that has been bubbling under the surface for a while now.  Expect, of the summer months, a hugely eclectic mix of periods, ideas and projects as I look to tidy up some loose ends.  As will become abundantly clear there is no scheduled plan, no themed months, just fun as I flit like a hobby butterfly from one idea to the next.

Now to start things off, I need your help, but here too lies a tale.  I have always enjoyed the escapism of the motion picture, the wonder of being transported to galaxy far, far away or the opportunity to capture a bridge too far.  Being a child of the video age this escapism had a seemingly never ending mine of material, provided you were prepared to peer through the stygian gloom, suffer the inaudible dialogue and run the risk of debilitating migraines brought on by flickering tracking; how we miss those halcyon days of the 1980s video rentals! 
When young Master Awdry wasn't being terrified witless by the latest celluloid slasher he was plunged into the jungles of the far east, rescuing forgotten P.O.W.s or stemming the tide of Communist incursion, winning the day against all odds.  Vietnam became synonymous with action and adventure, a place where camaraderie overcame bigotry and bravery was issued with frag grenades.  With the onset of age, if not wisdom, I am aware that these cinematic exploits couldn't have been further from the truth and that the Vietnam, or second Indochina War, was a complex, brutal and seemingly endless conflict that cost the lives of countless soldiers and civilians.  
The fascination with the period is difficult to pin down, but undoubtedly had something to do with films like Apocalypse Now, Platoon and Full Metal Jacket.  These undeniable masterpieces would portray a struggle that would often go beyond the conflict on the ground and, being a sensitive sort of chap, would strike a chord with my awkward sensibilities.  Add to this an intoxicating blend of rock 'n' roll and high explosive ordnance, all stirred together with the rotor blades of the ubiquitous 'Huey' and you had a cocktail that may a teenage boy found difficult to resist. 
So why has these bubbled to the surface now?  Again it's difficult to say with any degree of certainty, but one catalyst might be the release of several ranges of finely sculpted miniatures.  These have certainly caught my eye and a rather serendipitous series of posts by Martin Thornton on his wonderfully entertaining blog, 'The Life and Times of Mad Lord Snapcase' has seen me slowly build a fledging collection, nominally around the aforementioned films.  
Finally, then, to the somewhat circuitous point of the post, to what end?  How do I get to play with my toys?  I have in mind a rather bespoke, intimate affair and relatively small scale.  A handful of miniatures, a narrative or mission framed by the conflict in Vietnam, but not beholden to it.  I would like to roll dice or draw cards, feel the apprehension build as we edge through the steaming jungles or witness the firepower of a barrage directed by troops on the ground.  Does this already exist or is there perhaps something that can be adapted to my needs?  
I imagine this to be very much an ongoing project, the scale of which allowing it to be delved into at any given time without too much trouble.  I already have some jungle, built for the Congo games, but could see several scenarios framed around locations that might include the P.O.W. camp, the Temple, the Delta, the City, the Firebase, the abandoned Plantation and the Village, all of which will prick a memory of a film or historic battle.  The concept is very much to draw on the conflict, but not to be restricted by it historically, in doing so avoiding the grim reality of the war itself.  I am only too aware that the Vietnam War, is to many, a recent conflict and would certainly not want to belittle the sacrifices made.  This somewhat bubblegum approach is a bid to put some creative distance between the realities of war and tabletop entrainment; it should also allow me to sidestep the button counters and history police, keeping fun at the fore.   

So your ideas please, what can I use as a starting point, or for that matter is there already a game system that incorporates these ideas?  As always your thoughts and suggestions would be gratefully received. 
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