Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Araby warband

I had cause to dig out an old warband I completed many years ago themed around Araby - the fabled land to the East of the Old World. Their outing was to face off against the excellent Tales from Shyish for a bit of skirmish action. I realised I had never posted the sandy little blighters so here they are in all their glory.

They are based on archetypes from the Arabian Nights - the djinn, the roc, the magic monkey etc. Plus I mixed in a few Crusades tropes like the questing knight and his trusty (if somewhat overburdened) man-at-arms. And an assassin who is, I am sure, following some kind of creed.

They were originally conceived as two factions, hence the red and blue colourways. I think the roc and his rider were supposed to be the joker in the pack who were duel faction. Or something. I seem to remember that the painting method was really simple; airbrush a gradient all over of the mini and pick out any highlights in pure white. Further details follow a strict colourway of brown and either silver or gold depending on allegiance. A big part was to ensure there was no distinction between the base and the mini, so all feel like they're grounded to the terrain on which they stand.

I don't think I was very happy with these guys when I finished them. They languished in a box as penance for their perceived hobby sins. However, now I look back I actually quite like them. It's amazing what a bit of distance does to your work. Here are some shots of the infantry in action against Shyish. They came out trumps, but I was sad the monkey perished early on.

Stupid monkeys.


Saturday, 16 September 2017


The best nostalgic jaunts are those in which one amazing thing leads you to something even more utterly awesome. You hit paydirt and come away smiling with a motherload of goodness. That happened to me recently.

I had cause to look up a few old Marilyn Manson videos from the band's breakthrough Antichrist Superstar album. In the process I re-watched Cryptorchid. It's a low budget but beautiful affair but I always found it the most unsettling of what are, to be frank, a bunch of really quite unnerving videos. Shot on stark black and white high contrast film it smacks of found-footage and feels like a nightmarish fusion of images from Roswell, WWII documentaries and Häxan. It epitomises a kind of low-budget low-fi grand guignol film I remember from the 90s.

A bit if delving revealed that Cryptorchid was shot by an experimental film maker and includes scenes from another work of his - Begotten. And if you thought the music video was terrifying, you really haven't seen anyhing yet. To put it charitably, Elias Merhige's 70 minute feuge is a difficult watch.

This is very much a work about feeling. The deliberately opaque narrative plays second fiddle to haunting, grainy images where mud, blood and bodily fluids all become black splatters amid cadavers contorted by spastic movements. You have an overwhelming sense of being a voyeur in a world that you don't understand. The amorphous, robed, monk-like figures capture the terror of the creature MR James crafted so deftly in Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad. They limp over a pitted, broken, desolate landscape that could be the Somme. Since we are in the business of nostaligia and memory, it's apt that Begotten evokes the sense of a world we have forgotten - a brutal, mythic dark age captured on vintage equipment and preserved in silver nitrate for discovery in some future era. As the last line in Cryptorchid suggests, perhaps 'the time has come for bitter things'.

The whole thing is available on YouTube and it's below. I must confess I had to also read the plot so I didn't get completely lost.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Their only crime was curiosity - the aesthetics of 'Hackers'

The early 90s was an era when the world was not-so tech savvy. Grown ups believed that muggers could get in down your telephone line and computers in movies were almost universally sentient (and evil). That said, Iain Softley's movie about an annoying bunch of teenagers sees them do things with laptops which, even upon its release in 1995, looked pretty improbable. In those days anyone who had actually used a computer knew it was less about cool kids getting up to high jinks set to the beats of techno music, and more putting up with squawking modems and endless load times while your parents moaned at you for hogging the phone line.

For all its absurdity Hackers captures the heady, euphoric promise of the emerging digital world. In it tech is a lifestyle and one that only the youth can comprehend. Its aesthetics bleed into clothing, decor and club spaces. This article in Dazed is a great analysis, and it points out some of the more progressive things about Hackers. Like the fact its positive depiction of a woman in tech. But the author is ultimately more enamoured with the movie than I am (more on that later) so I'll stick to ground she doesn't cover.

The movie's main cast, in all their varied styles. They encapsulate the breadth of youth culture of the time, from baggy streetwear to post-punk-queer, indie and biker styles. This variety is also reflected in the tech the gang use, from then-state-of-the-art laptops to spiral bound, home printed hackers' manuals.

A young Angelina Jolie wears white for much of the movie, looking like a puckish droog. She is a counterpoint to Johnny Lee Miller in his more sombre garb.

Acid Burn, Jolie's character, has a large portrait of the robot Maria, from Metropolis, in her room. This image often frames Jolie, and reinforces her as a woman of the future, who is desirable but unobtainable.

Johnny Lee Miller's character Dade "Zero Cool" Murphey is the the titular hero-on-a-journey. His garb begins as slightly dork-ish (in a sympathetic way) as he stumbles about his new life in New York sniffing after Acid Burn. He quickly morphs into more of a biker-bad-boy replete with reinforced jacket. Interesting touches include his bleached hair (which Miller retained for Trainspotting released a year later) that was a 90s staple for dapper young men.

Dade in dork mode.

Matthew Lillard's character Emmanuel "Cereal Killer" Goldstein gets a varied wardrobe of punk-influenced reconfigured clothing. While Acid Burn has all the latest tech, courtesy of her wealthy mother, Cereal Killer represents the polar opposite - the mend-and-make-do side of hacking where kit is held together by duck tape.

Cereal Killer in his military garb

Acid's laptop - probably a Mac PowerBook Duo 270c with a custom transparent chassis.

Ramon "The Phantom Phreak" Sanchez (Renoly Santiago) was a refreshingly queer character for a youth movie in the mid-90s. His flamboyant animal prints and bright colours reflected a trend for lurid combinations. This is most evident in the solarised computer graphics seen in the movie, like those of the films MacGuffin - the Da Vinci virus.

Phantom Phreak in one of his more monochrome outfits 

 The Da Vinci virus helpfully explains its demands to its victims.

Phantom is not the only queer character in the movie. Razor and Blade are two flamboyant TV presenters who live together, seemingly in a fortified club-cum-TV-studio. Its decor reflects their exotic clobber, including the Mona Lisa wallpaper seen here (another reference to Da Vinci).
Eugene "The Plague" Belford (Fisher Stevens) is the titular bad guy - an ex-hacker now working for a corporation. Just to ensure you don't mistake him for a hero, he's full-on Dracula, with slick, dark hair and an evil goatee. He's an interesting portrait of a rebel grown up, floating about on his skateboard eating candy straws while trust up in some svelt waistcoats and tailored jackets. He channels a youthful Trent Rezner and is far better than Lorraine Bracco. She phones in an abysmal performance as his co-conspirator.  While his garb might be rather goth, he inhabits a slick apartment decked out in chrome and glass, the antithesis of the Cyberdelia club.

The Plague, in his lair.

 The walls of his open-plan flat are engraved with an atom motif, seen repeatedly throughout the movie. Like here:

Cyberdelia is where the hackers hang out and it's a portrait of how grown-ups thought the youth of the 90s spent their time - skateboarding and spray painting things they shouldn't. It's here that Crash challenges Acid to a game of Wipeout. Interestingly the title, by Psygnosis, was only released in 1995, and it's an early beta of the game that's featured in the movie. Psygnosis already had a long and impressive reputation in the industry built on games like Brataccas and it seems only natural that United Artists would have turned to them for material.

Cyberdelia, which is what a 90s club would look like if it were made by a movie studio with lots of money.

Tech becoming central to the cast of late-Gen-X's lives was prescient, but in billing it as a movement or youth cult was pretty off-the-mark. By 1995 tech was fast becoming part of everyday life via the dull silver chassis of all the kit that emerged by the end of the decade. Where Hackers failed (and - let me make this clear - this is in addition to being just a pretty poor movie) The Matrix succeeded a scant four years later. The Wachowskis made the real world look dull and stale, and conceded that a mythological techno-wonderland full of latex-clad models was much more interesting. They hit the zeitgeist in a way that Hackers failed to and history will remember Neo and wonder who the hell Crash Override* was.

*He's the lead in Hackers. That cyberpunk movie from the 90s. No, not the one with Keanu - that was in Johnny Mnemonic, which was also shit.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Into the Unknown: The best show going

The day after I waited and waited and waited to see Star Wars Identities I saw the Barbican's sci fi extravaganza Into the Unknown; A Journey through Science Fiction. There was less waiting. The Barbican is much nicer. And the show was one of the best I have ever seen.

Into is a history of our imagined future. It begins with early examples of science fiction with exhibits from as far back as the 17th century, then moves on to explore the genre through themes rather than a straight chronology. Thus 1930s comics rub shoulders with modern concept art and Bladerunner stills sit alongside edits of the 70s Wonder Woman TV show. I sometimes find that organising things in such a way can lead to bafflement on my part and an inability to grasp the bigger picture, but not so here. And I didn't have to work to ignore an 'experience' the likes of which Identities forces down your throat.

So; on to the good stuff:

One of my favourite production designers, Patrick Tatopaolos, had lent a good deal of his work to the show. I've blogged before about my love of the original Stargate movie design and OH MY GOD they had all three masks there. Their detail was stunning and I had no idea that even the fabric hanging doo-dahs were superbly made and delicately weathered. I took loads of photos of them and got odd looks as I pressed my face to the glass for ages.

This chap needs no introduction. I am pretty sure he is one of the stunt heads from Aliens (and not a 'hero' head). I had read before how the paint scheme on these was deliberately high-contrast so it had a chance of registering on camera under the low-lights. This prop seems to confirm that fact. I still prefer the clear-domed first movie version though. There was also the painting of the road to the Harkonnen palace and the Harkonnen chair from the Giger estate on show. Que second nerdgasm.

Just to be clear - this guy was up high, not lying down. This is Kane's space suit from Alien and what a piece! The fabric work is insane and testament to Ridley Scott's attention to detail. It put the rather dull suit from Interstellar, also on show, to shame.

It was a crap movie, but in the 90s Species was the only way geeks could see new work by Giger on screen. I think this might have been a piece from one of the sequels. The most interesting thing about Sil is that she represents what Giger originally intended for the finish of the skin of the Big Guy in Alien. The 70s production methods couldn't handle his desire for translucent skin, and it eventually took a rubbish and mildly pornographic franchise to make this a reality.

I wet myself again when I saw these. They are props of trippy-VR games from David Cronenberg's eXistenZ. They deliberately channel the (awful) design of tech packaging I remember from the 90s.

A rare example of the curators really dropping the ball on lighting. This is an actual Speeder from Empire Strikes Back (probably about 1:50 scale, no not large). It was almost impossible to see, being underlit in a dark room.

The final room was devoted to evolution, the nature of humanity and robotics. Twiki from Buck Rogers stood alongside robots from AI, but it was a cute array of Japanese tin toys which caught my attention.

It was clear that the curators have a great love and knowledge of sci fi. I was really impressed with the breadth of the exhibits and the obscurity of some (like the eXistenZ props). The tour is finished by two conceptual pieces - a film and a kinetic sculpture which are quite at odds with the body of the show. You can take them or (as I quickly did) leave them. Don't let this put you off though - this is one of the best curations of sci fi artifacts you're going to see in a long time. If you can combine it with Identities you're on for a double win!

Monday, 14 August 2017

Star Wars Identities - a show worth waiting for

I've just returned, tired and satisfied, from a weekend of exhibitions in London. The first one I caught was Star Wars Identities at the O2. It started off badly but eventually won me over with its amazing collection of original props, models and costumes.

As I get older I've come to realise I'm now fairly grumpy and dislike being told what to do. The trend of exhibitions wanting to 'take you on a jouney' just irritates me. When you add in dodgey audio guides, they make me feel like I'm locked to an on-rails shooter that won't allow my head to turn. After way too much waiting, poor crowd control and some unhelpful staff, off came the audio guide and I headed for the fun stuff, resolutely ignoring the rather strange meta-narrative of the show.

This 'story' behind the exhibition panders to a culture obsessed with social media. The curators clearly thought that the viewer needs to be at the centre of everything. Hence the tour is broken up by way stations where you get to make choices and learn about how identity is constructed. While I found this distracting, baffling, and creepy (coming from the multi-billion dollar corporation that is Disney), folk seemed to enjoy it so I shouldn't be too harsh on the creators. I was there for the props and costumes, and - oh boy - was I not disappointed. There are originals from throughout the canon including a load from the pre-production of A New Hope. Here are some of my favourites, which included the more obscure stuff.

The original Ponda Baba mask from the Canteena. This thing is nearly 40 years old and I was surprised at how well the latex has lasted.

A Sandperson. The attention to detail on this costume was quite stunning and at odds with many of the New Hope costumes. He also had his gaffie stick, which was a solid affair made of metal.

This guy needs no introduction.

The show's lighting was pretty awesome and in the last room the engineers really went to town with the Death Star-style neon tubing. There was only one 'fail' where a case containing lots of star ship models wasn't working, so the things annoyingly remained in the dark.

I had seen reproductions of this Ralf McQuarrie painting many times before. What I didn't know was this it actually dated from a brief period when Lucas was thinking of making Luke a girl - hence 'his' lithe silhouette in this drawing.

One of Jabba's eyes. The detail on this thing is stunning.

Concepts for Yoda (then called 'Minch') and his house. Many of the hut drawings reminded me of the work of Roger Dean, with a 70s vibe to the silhouettes.

I spent ages looking at these helmets. The prop makers seem to have made the insignia in a variety of ways - some were stencilled on, others were hand painted but many of the small icons seem to be self adhesive stickers which have since peeled a bit.

An interesting behind-the-scenes chart made to keep the fx crew on track when it came to ship dynamics.
Concepts for a really wacky abandoned scene where the Emperor appears to Vader in a form that keeps changing - at some moments appearing like a woman (with hindsight, perhaps Padme Amidala?)

In contrast to the Sandperson costume, it was interesting to see how many parts of the New Hope outfits were pretty basic in their construction. This arm detail from Luke's flight suit is a good example, being roughly painted vac-formed plastic. Boots were another instance. In the 70s costumes existing boots seem to have been used, but by the time of Empire the budget allowed for custom-designed footwear.

Star Wars Identities doesn't have much longer left to run so get down there by the 3rd of September if you want to see it. If you're a fan of props, costumes or the IP you won't be disappointed. Just be prepared for some annoying waiting before you go in.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Skulls for the Skull Throne!

For those of you who enjoy destroying puny mortals in the digital realm, you'll be pleased to hear that there is a Games Workshop Steam sale! Skulls for the Skull Throne has up to 90% off lots of licensed titles, a Twitch community and some free digital goodies.

This is a bit special for a couple of reasons; I helped set the sale up and made the marketing assets, including the rather natty logo.

So if you want to field Krell in Total War: WARHAMMER, or stomp about in Chaplain Terminator Armour in Deathwing, get over to Steam now.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Xenos dance off

Sorry for the re-post. Technical issues. Now with pictures!

My regular opponent Mr T laid down some smack talk which, after some clarification, amounted to his Tyranids wanting a bit of a scrap. I was still smarting from our previous encounter and figured this would be a good debut for my Harlequins. We turned up, kit in hand, at Warhammer World, and ended up on a strange but exquisite table. We figured it was maybe a Maiden World. With handy dandy objectives.

I managed to unlock the achievement of a deploying in way that was not stupid. This proved that learning had occurred since my last travesty of a set-up where I left my Whirlwind in the open. My Troupes sheltered in cover while applying the last of their makeup. On the opposite side the Skyweaver Jetbikes hovered behind a tower as they tuned their synths and complained about how their bodysuits always got so sweaty. My Death Jester, took up position in a ruin with his candy cane catapult.

Across the clearing the chitinous hoard skittered out of the ruins. The Broodlord sniffed the air and gnashed his teeth, eager to taste some Aeldari meat.

When the beats started pumping, my Harlequins began the routine they had been practising in anticipation of their big chance. The Skyweavers grabbed the left objective and busted some victory moves. They were utterly appalled when their rhythm was broken by a massive, slavering, four-armed murder bastard jumped from the crowd and tore into them.

After a zig zag little number, one Troupe grabbed the centre objective. The audience went wild! Oh, wait. Maybe a little too wild. And why is that rowdy fan skewering Johnny Lasers with his talons? Cue some Harlequin kissing (no, not like that) and the offender was subdued.

On the far right the other Troupe went for a fairly straightforward routine overseen by their Leader, Atomic Eddie. While ensuring his proteges strutted their stuff he was baffled by how offencive that big sinapse guy was being. "Maybe he's a judge?" he thought. Then casually inflicted four wounds on the thing. Soon the judge and all its chittering supporters were strewn about in pieces. Warlord down! Bonus points, surely?

Back in the centre the crowd was going nuts! Ultimately the Skyweavers bowed out (thanks to blood loss on their part) but the Troupe was having a ball. They slayed all the Termagants with glittery backflips then dropped the mic by kicking a Carnifex in the nuts. Repeatedly.

In all it was a stellar debut and I'm sure we'll be seeing more from this group. Their only hope is that they get a less drunk audience next time. In truth I was surprised at how well they did, as I was convinced I'd lost by turn two. Testament to the 8th edition rules was that I only won by one victory point, again proving that the Power Level system is very well balanced. I'd be terrified to field these guys against heavy armour, and really suffered by not having a psyker. So next up will be a Shadowseer (probably an old High Warlock mini) and some looted Robots.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. We are The Weeping Dawn. You've been wonderful. Thank you and good night!