Miniatures have come a long, long way. Obviously they have been around for hundreds of years (even thousands depending on how you define toy soldiers) but I mainly hover around what we term as the modern miniatures hobby. I'll term it as 25-35mm miniature figures, usually produced in metal, plastic or resin, and sold unpainted for us hobbyists. And I'm more of a fantasy/sf guy than historicals. Realistically we're looking at this kind of thing getting it's foothold in the seventies. That's really not that long ago and, despite advances in casting and sculptors finding better ways to work (mostly because they slowed down and took their time I feel) I don't really see that it moved forward until we were into the nineties. Certainly there was the coming of plastic at Citadel, but that took a long time to start producing genuinely great figures to rival metal.
Minis were still mostly in the 'toy soldier' vein though the advent of character figures started to leak through. Suddenly figures were being sold individually and were charging the same for that one figure as for a pack of regular figures. The first time I really remember this happening was when Citadel released Commissar Yarrick and Ghazghkull Thraka for Warhammer 40,000.
These figures were the starting point of sculptors being able to push themselves harder and further. I'm sure they weren't the first to do this but this was high-profile and saying 'these figures are worth more money'. And soon the world changed. There were probably lots of things going on in baby steps but towards the end of the nineties something was going on in France that took what Citadel had done and asked where we could go from here. The character figures Citadel were producing were a step up from their regular pieces but they were still in the mould of their regular troops in their execution (chunky and a bit flat). Rackham changed that.
I consider Rackham to have been the biggest upheaval in the minis industry since Citadel juggernauted things in the early eighties. Although Rackham produced a game, their figures didn't pay much attention to the practicalities of it. Rackham had top notch concept artists churning out exact artwork for the sculptors to reproduce with very little in the way of compromises. The figures were multipart, often frangile and a whole lot more flamboyant than their predecessors. They also presented things in a different way with regards to their painters but that is a tale for a different day. Now, I was never a huge fan of Rackham, for reasons I also wont get into today, but the effect they had on the industry was far reaching. People lapped this stuff up and the word spread that Citadel weren't the best minis anymore. Rackham produced a massive range of these crazy figures. I still prefered Citadel style but this 'revolution' did make them sit up and take notice. Anyone who disagrees should probably take a look at Citadel's Archaon figure, and then compare it to the previous version. Citadel figures became more detailed, more multipart and much more in-your-face. So, Rackham were being crazy and Citadel were showing that they weren't going to lie down and take it. And something else was stirring in the ethereal realm of the internet as it gained in popularity and surged toward becoming the indispensable part of our lives that it is now. It became obvious to some of us that the internet offered a way to run a miniatures company in a 'back bedroom' capacity. Thus came the age of the miniature boutique.
I chose a picture of a figure from Freebooter Miniatures for this section as Werner Klocke was one of the first sculptors to strike out on his own in a successful fashion (and is going strong today). Many of us sculptors, myself included, decided to cut out the middle men and just sell our sculpts direct. Wasn't too hard; we just needed a website, sculpts and someone to cast our figures. So, the minis world started getting some very diverse figures and our industry got that little bit more arty. This said, with the ease of setting up such a venture we do now have a situation where there are a million mini companies out there. Very easy to get lost in the shuffle.
The boutique revolution is mostly over the last 8-10 years and we haven't really had a major change in that time. Not that nothing has happened of course. The most significant progress has been in the quality of sculpture as the sculptors constantly find new limits as to what is possible at the scale. There are some remarkable pieces out there. You have guys like Jacques Alexandre Gillois putting out heartstopping works of sculpture. Really breathtaking to look at as a sculptor myself.
And here we are, just shy of 2011. And I should probably get to the long overdue point. This has been a brief (okay, sort of brief) history of our industry and there's a spectacular amount left out as I don't want to write a novel, just a blog post. And the point is this: it looks as though miniatures have finally reached their adulthood and matured into a well rounded industry/hobby. It looks that way but I feel that is entirely wrong. I look at the minis world and I don't see an adult, I see an adolescent. He, or indeed she, is growing up but not there yet. After seeing the amazing sculpts of today and the 600 hour paintjobs I hear the same question over and over: where can we go from here. Surely the sculpture is about as good as it can get and what more can a painter achieve than they have done in 600 hour? We aren't toy soldiers anymore and we are so much more sophisticated. Everything is a roof and defending that we are cool now. That sounds like a teenager to me.
I have my own feelings as to where we go next. If you think we've reached the ceiling then I don't think you are thinking wide enough. I think something very special is around the corner and wait with baited breath for it. In future posts I'll probably talk a little about what I feel is up and coming. I read a lot of forums and I see evidence of it all over. But this blog post is turning into a leviathan and I really should put it to bed.
I think that I should soon write a more practical blog post. Maybe talk a little about one of my more unusual sculpting techniques...