Top-Heavy, Part II: Special Forces

datetime April 9, 2020 7:01 AM

The Electrician

Most of the models I chose for this army were selected because I liked how they look. The Kaplan was selected because Foreign Company has weird fireteams.

The army is heavily skewed toward character models, and has only two generic units that can form a traditional single-troop fireteam– light Securitates and heavy ORC troops. And the number of “can join another fireteam as a guest” models available to the sectorial is actually surprisingly minimal. Instead, the sectorial has been given a huge number of explicit “A + B + C” fireteam recipes, where you can form a Core or a Haris only out of specific nominated members with no flexibility.

When I planned out which models I wanted to play, I started with the fact that I wanted to play all six of the character models in the faction. However, the fireteam options with that model list are a bit hard to arrange– I knew I wanted to put the four “stars” of the Foreign Company into the “oh my god it’s such a bad idea” 4-Character Trap Fireteam for the memes, which left Avicenna and Wild Bill to find friends to hang out with on their own. And going over the fireteam list, the only way to get Bill into any kind of fireteam was to build one of these guys:

Kaplans… exist. They’re one of those troops that’s “distinctive enough”, and “good looking enough” and “decent enough on the table”, but that most people forget exists when they aren’t looking directly at it. I would never have selected one to sculpt in a vacuum, but given the list I probably wanted to play, I didn’t have a lot of choice if I wanted my cowboy to get that sweet, sweet +1 Burst bonus.

So, okay, whatever. I guess I’ll count it as a victory that I managed to assemble an army with only one Obligation Model in it and move on with my life. 😛

After drawing up the concept sketch for the Kaplan, I left with two take-aways:

  1. Jésus Christo, that is an insane amount of detail. It’s just detailed padding and paneling and pockets from toe to eyeballs. UUUUUGH DON’T WANNA SCUUUUUUULPT. ;_;
  2. I decided that I was going to play the Engineer Kaplan for some specialist diversity, and wanted to play the profile holding a Blitzen (aka Lightning Gun) but quickly realized that while Blitzens have existed as a weapon for like eight years on paper, Corvus Belli has kind of never… drawn one? Like, ever, in any context? I pulled up Army and filtered to every single model in the game armed with a Blitzen, and then dug up the concept dossiers for all of those units, and ABSOLUTELY NONE OF THEM had a Blitzen in their hand or drawn on the side

Pictured: zero lightning guns. >:(

I got a bit panicked because I really wanted to include a more interesting gun to compensate for the fact that I didn’t find the Kaplan itself very interesting, but it really did seem that Corvus Belli had invented a gun on graph paper and then spent the better part of a decade not assigning any of their artists to decide what the f*** it looks like. e_@

BUT! By a fluke, right as I had this dilemma, Corvus Belli released some concept art for the upcoming Defiance game, and lo and behold:


LIGHTING GUN! And it’s… super weird-looking! XD

Alright, so, totally not what I was expecting, but that actually looks pretty interesting– I guess it’s basically like a tiny railgun, firing off the electric slug between the two charged rails? Ehh, sure, we’ll go with that. 🙂

Oh, and dumb postscript to this tangent: I mentioned the problems I had been having to my playgroup, and the conclusion that CB had FINALLY just released the design for what a Blitzen looks like, not on an Infinity model, but for a side game they’re selling on Kickstarter. And one of the other players said,

  • Brandon: “No, they did it a while ago.”
  • Spud: “A-wha? No they didn’t. I looked at all the dossiers, none of them have Blitzens.”
  • Brandon: “Okay, but there’s a model holding one.”
  • Spud: “What? No there isn’t. I LOOKED.”

And he dug around on the model wall, and pulled down a box.

  • Brandon: “See?”

I squinted.

  • Spud: “No, I do not see.”
  • Brandon: “It’s right there, man.”

Oh, f*** you.

Dear Spain: I hate you, and you are not invited to my birthday party.


Once I have art for the Blitzen, I scale it down to the size that will fit into my model’s hand and print it out.

I like to sculpt the weapons my models will be holding before the rest of the model, as the handheld accessories dictate a lot of the decisions that I’ll need to make about the model’s pose.

I stick the paper template down to a block of wood with push pins, and then scratch the contour around it with a pencil to delineate the space my gun needs to stay within.

I get out some thin 24GA copper wire and twist it into the vague shape of the contour, leaving space on all sides to bury it in clay.

Just as with the models themselves, the clay on the weapons needs a putty foundation to stick to the metal. I wrap a bit of putty around the wire, and then lay shreds of clay over top of the still-soft putty and flatten it all together. Throughout the process, I’ll be continually watching the pencil contours to ensure that I don’t stray outside the weapon’s contours.

I continue adding small bits of clay and blending them to the outsides until I’m happy with the silhouette.

Next, I look at the reference drawing and add in some of the interior details, pressing in small lines to define the grip, the weird circular frame, and the charged rails.

I continue pressing in details until I’m pretty satisfied with my replication of the original gun. The entire process is done by pushing out basic shapes with metal tools and then smoothing with clayshapers.

When I’m happy with the first side of the gun, I bake it in my halogen oven (250 degrees F for about 6 minutes). Once the first side is baked solid, I use a knife to carefully lift it off the wood block, and then I turn it over.

I use blobs of Green Stuff to provide supporting pegs to keep it firmly level while I work on the reverse side.

I want to do something kind of unique for the Blitzen. If I’m going to have a model holding a lightning gun, I want to be able to very clearly communicate what it is to a casual observer. So, I decide that the gun will have a very exaggerated energy effect modeled onto it, clearly showing the electricity building up in preparation for firing. I’m not totally clear at this stage exactly what that will look like, but I do know that it will involve some clay above and below the barrel, so I embed an extra wire perpendicular to the barrel to let me support whatever I build later on. I also leave the structural wires at the barrel of the gun extending outward to form additional supports.

The process for this side is largely the same as the other side– I smear a thin layer of Green Stuff over the silhouette as an adhesive, and then press shreds of clay into it and smooth the shreds together with metal tools.

Once again, I press the details of the weapon into the clay. I do my best to completely obscure the lightning wire everywhere except where it falls outside the weapon.

The entire process is much faster the second time, as I can use the already-established edges of the first side to easily guide the placement of every piece on the flip-side. I do a bunch of cleanup, bake the gun, clean up the seam between the two sides with a sharp knife, and then see how it looks on the model.

The pose I decided on for the Kaplan is for the model to be aiming down the gun while it charges up.

I’m not gonna lie, I wasn’t entirely successful in replicating this pose. The gun ended up a bit bigger than in the drawing, and I had a lot of difficulty getting the two hands to link up in the way they are in the sketch. I still think the pose I ended up with is fine, but it’s a bit less cool than what I drew. :/

Soooo, what the hell is the glow going to look like? I had a vague idea in my head for a cartoon lightning bolt cutting across the gun, but it turns out that this is more complicated in practice than in my head.

I print out a bunch of copies of the Blitzen design and sketch out different ways the lightning bolt could be integrated into them. I end up liking the one in the middle, which integrates a circular halo in the middle of the bolt.

I twist the four protruding wires to fit inside the lightning bolt sketch.

Sculpting the actual lightning bolt is pretty much identical to the steps for the gun itself– Green Stuff adhesive, then clay, then smooth everything, then flip and repeat.

While the gun production is winding down, I start working on the actual model. As I said earlier, I had some issues getting the hands to link up the way I wanted, so I compromised by having the second hand just sort of rest against the other side of the grip. Not the greatest gun-firing pose, but it’s what I can manage given the model’s stubby arms. :/

I sculpt in Fimo, which is a polymer clay available at most craft stores. Fimo doesn’t stick to metal on its own, so you need to apply a layer of Green Stuff putty over the armature as an adhesive layer. The Green Stuff is thinly applied using metal sculpting tools.

The first layer of Fimo is immediately applied directly over the still-soft putty. Once again, it’s pressed into place using metal sculpting tools; clean surfaces aren’t terribly important at this point, since many layers will be going on top.

Clay is added to the model in shreds and slabs to arrive at the desired thickness for each part. At this stage I’m still working entirely with metal tools, as the ability to quickly jam bits of clay together is far more important at this stage than getting clean surfaces. You don’t need very much clay to bulk out an arm or a leg, but the sheer size of chibi heads mean that they’ll invariably require huge amounts of clay to be stuck on.

Once I’m happy with the basic body masses, I start adding clothes. I typically start at the model’s feet and work my way up. Thick garment breaks are added first, and then I add smaller surface details.

As I mentioned earlier, the Kaplan is just PLASTERED with detail on every inch of her outfit. I pay close attention to the concept art, and break each area down into individual panels and patches to be applied on top of each other.

Garment edges and fully embossed straps are both done in pretty much the same way– I roll out a very thin clay snake, and apply it either as one long piece or in smaller snippets. The snake is then pressed flat and blended into its surroundings.

You can achieve different effects depending on how you blend it; you can leave a stark ledge on both sides to make the new clay appear as an independent band of material, or you can blend one of the edges into the surrounding material to look like a garment is coming to an end– e.g., the bottom of a sleeve or a pant leg.

There’s still a lot more detail to add to the legs (*sigh*), but I keep moving up the body to the torso. I add a small panel for the tabard (which necessitates adding a wad of clay under the crotch all the way to the back to provide support), and then define the edges of the “smock” on the torso.

Oh hey, time to add pouches!

I really love sculpting pouches. I made a quick pouch-sculpting tutorial back in my Warmachine days, and it’s still basically the same procedure I follow today. I’ll just link you out to it since it’s an EXTREMELY tall image. 😛

I don’t see any problem with putting steampunk pouches on sci-fi models. I don’t anticipate that pouch technology is really going to progress all that much over the next two hundred years.

Oh hey, it’s another holstered gun that I took no progress photos of. I’m really starting to get suspicious about how often this is occurring. :/

Okay, so… the head! The Kaplan has a pretty distinctive gas mask helmet, which is very simple on top and extremely detailed on the bottom. Joy. -_-

As with all of the other models, I determine the size and position of the eyes by pressing in a circle using a piece of brass tubing.

Come to think of it, we’re five models in and I don’t think you’ve seen this brass tube yet, either.


Bluh, whatever. I flatten the bottom of the eyes, and then start applying clay for the gas mask. I start with the main bulge outward from the mouth, then lay scraps over the top of it and smooth them into a curved panel.

I add some more clay on top, and define the two separate panels from the concept.

The topmost of those two panels is integrated with the top of the helmet, so I add clay between the eyes and up to the brow, trying my best to keep everything smooth.

Whoever designed the Kaplan helmet did a good job of emphasizing the gas mask; every panel on the rest of the head is effectively an arrow pointing toward it, or else continues its line of direction throughout the mask.

Great work, Spain. <3

I continue the top bands all the way to the back.

Keeping the head symmetrical was surprisingly VERY challenging. I’m not completely sure why– I didn’t have any major symmetry issues on any of the other smooth-helmeted models, but the Kaplan’s head was extremely wobbly throughout most of the process until I spent almost a full hour cleaning it up toward the end.

Alrighty, coming along nicely. 🙂

I add some chunks of clay around the jaw to finish the overall silhouette for the head. The details for these jaw blocks are really unclear from the concepts I have on hand, so I leave them smooth for now and plan to come back to them later.

Oh hey, it’s more f***ing body detail for some reason. Sure, why not. Here I’ve added the REALLY complex backpack strap, which like everything else on this model is just crammed with buckles, pockets, and any other detail Spain could cram in to stave off the dreaded smooth surfaces. *hiss*

Speaking of backpacks, here’s the backpack. The Kaplan actually has a fairly interesting backpack design– the gas mask has two tubes that run over the shoulders and plug into a back-mounted ventilation system.

I didn’t get a lot of progress shots of the backpack, but basically:

  1. I define the major divisions– the top flap, the line across the middle that dips down, and the trapezoid at the bottom– with metal tools, then clean up the lines with clayshapers.
  2. I apply a small ball of clay on the left and right of the backpack. I squish the balls flat with metal tools, drag the edges downward to be flush with the backpack, and then press in an indentation in the center of each of the cylinders I’ve just created.
  3. Detail and cleanup.

Alrighty, back to the head!

The front of the gas mask is a bit unclear in the references I had at this point. I guessed based on the new N3 resculpts (the photos of which are quite dark) that the mask is supposed to terminate in two round “buttons”. This turns out not to be correct when I find a better concept in a bit, but I never ended up changing it because I don’t hate how I the two circles look.


Also, the exact nature of the box along the jawline is really unclear from the concept, as the coloured N3 dossier only shows the head from the front. However, there are two views we’ve seen of the side of the head:

On the previous edition’s version of the Kaplan concept, the chin framed a line of parallel ribs or gills. I don’t have a super high-res shot of the recently resculpted models, but it appears that they’ve redesigned this area a bit into a pair of chunky polygons.

I decided that I liked the gilled version more overall, but also decide to make the shapes more angular and less organic to fit in with the geometry of the rest of the helmet.

The last detail I want to add before baking is the conical mounting points for the breathing tubes on top of the gas mask. Once that’s done, I spent about an hour cleaning up edges with clayshapers, and she takes her first trip into The Hot Zone.

Once the first layer is set, I glue the gun into place. This is where I really run into problems trying to replicate my concept drawing– the “aim down the sights” pose is really difficult to achieve with a gigantic gas mask coming off the front of the gigantic face. I do what I can in spite of it. 🙁

Time to build the arms! I apply Green Stuff around the wire, then wrap clay around it while it’s still soft.

To build the hands, a bit of clay is applied to form the entire block of fingers. Hands are one of the many elements that are easier to sculpt on a chibi model than on a normal-scale model. You can often get away with a more simplified grooved “mitten”, which then allows each finger to support its neighbours. The grooves are pressed in about halfway down the mitten, and then things are smoothed out a bit. Once that’s all formed, I use a knife to separate some of the finger tips and slightly pull them away from the rest of the hand.

I then press in some of the panels on the Kaplan’s arm, which are, to the surprise of no-one at this point, quite detailed. First, there are smooth plates that run up the forearm and over the bicep.

Another set of staggered plates goes over the back of the upper arm, and the shoulder is broken up into lines of artificial muscle underlay. Finally, model has a short glove with its own variety of knuckle and hand pads, and an odd but cool-looking open window on the back of the wrist.

There’s detail f***ing everywhere, is what I’m saying. -_-

Nothing new is happening here, but I did a better job on the hand, so I’m showing it to you. 😛

Aaaaaand all of that detail goes on this side as well. You can see the finished glove on this side.

The Kaplan has asymmetrical shoulders; the muscle fibers I added on the left side are covered up by a large plate on the right.

This plate still has a fair bit of detail that needs to be added, but it’s definitely less work than more braided muscle cables.

And finally, the breathing tubes. I did these in two passes– I applied a very thin snake from the mask to the backpack before baking the model again. Then, once it had been through the oven and the first thin tube was solidified, I added a second layer of clay over it and baked again for just a few minutes.

And with that, we’re done model #5! HALFWAY THERE! WHOO! 😀

As always, painted pictures are on the last page. For now, let’s build a handsome cowboy-man. <3

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