Tuesday, 19 November 2013

A gamble?


I didn't mean this to turn into a micro analysis of Citadel miniatures, but what Bryan did with the production of the miniatures in the period ('82-84) after he took charge bares noting, so if this gets a little technical please stick with me, and I get back to the rampant nostalgia in the next update or two...

Traditionally, making white-metal minis involves a two stage moulding process; firstly an original sculpture is made using an epoxy putty (or even earlier carved from solder) and then moulded into what is called a Master-mould. This Master-mould might contain a few different models but of course it could only have one copy of each original in it, this is ok for small scale production, but as moulds ware, and quite often the original would be destroyed in the stressful vulcanisation process, it is only really a temporary mould.
a silicon rubber Master-mould.

So once a mini had been Master-moulded a number of Master-castings would be taken from it, cleaned of blemishes and then these would in-turn be moulded into a Production mould, which would have a large number of each mini type on it.
It would have been incredibly difficult to provide large numbers of castings from a mould with one cavity on it, but considerably easier if the mould had 10 - 20 minis of the same type on in... simples...

In this a 'belt and braces' type of mini production, the expensive to produce original is protected by having firstly a Master-mould taken, and secondly by having the master-castings cast, and saved, to return to when the Production-mould inevitably wore out.

So what Bryan did in 82 - 84 to this traditional process was not only radical for the time, but also quite risky.

What he did was get the sculptors, and at this time there was only a handful of them, to make-up only the basic bodies of the miniatures before master-moulding, and then to add the final detailing onto the Master-castings just before the production moulds were made. This allowed a great degree of variation to each mini that went into production, for example one fighter would get one type of helmet and a bag, and the next in line might get a different helmet and a cloak, the next, a third helmet and a sword instead of a axe etc... One well known sculptor told me that his job when he first went to Citadel in this period was to do a good deal of this type of conversion work, sitting between the moulding processes, sculpting bags and pouches, cloaks and hats that all added a huge amount of character and colour to the minis that were being released.

C02 Wizard
a converted C02 Wizard
But there is a problem with this method, moulds ware-out. The moulds once spun a few time start to degrade, areas that are undercut will rip, larger items will start to flash and constant use will cause them to burn-out (lose the oils in the organic rubber compounds) and break up. In the traditional process this is not an issue, in that it is possible to return to the master-castings, which survive the vulcanisation process, to make more moulds... But where the design team had added extra detailing to the basic body types in Bryan's new method, the putty would be lucky to survive, and the sculptors would need to make a number of new variants to fill the new production mould every time they were remade.
As an aside, it might have been possible to take more 'master-castings' from a fresh production moulds and put these aside to make more production-moulds from, but these would have been third, (forth, fifth) generation copies of the original bodies and would be of lower quality that the first and second generation copies...

From gamers this method of making minis produced a boom in the numbers of different models that were available and kick started the 'Collector-gene' in a lot of people, but it had an inherent problem, it required an almost ever increasing number of sculptors to service the constant remaking of the range... and although Citadel did increase the design capacity over this period, doubling the number of sculptors they employed, I suppose the decision was taken to move back to a more traditional method of working, and by the release of the Second Compendium ('85?) the range had settled down to less varied 'codes' with regular numbers of set minis in each...

Which all begs a couple of big question; 1) did Bryan know what he was doing with the moulds?
I suspect that he did, he knew that his new moulds would ware-out, he is an accomplish mould maker himself and Citadel must have already been remaking loads of moulds on a regular basis, given the numbers they were selling of the old range... And 2), did he realise the medium term problems he would create? And again my guess is that he did, taking a gamble on pumping the highly profitable miniatures side of his business as quickly as possible to grow the whole organisation.
An entrepreneurial risk.

Regardless it worked, Citadel miniatures were now driving Games Workshop forward but at a cost... most of those great minis from this period are now lost forever, torn, ripped or burnt-out long ago, never to return.

Next time, a pause for breath...