Friday, 28 January 2011

Selling minis and matters of size...

Okay, I'm practically famous for ranting about figure scales. It's an age old argument where the public are usually wrong but don't know it (controversial huh?). This is not a rant about that though I'll probably get back to it one of these days...

This is about photography. In particular, the photographing of miniatures for advertising purposes. There's a bit of a trend out there and it's not really an ideal one. One of the difficulties of sculpting minis is the 'conventions of scale'. This is to say that on a 28mm figure we don't accurately recreate the proportions of a real human. At 28mm the ankles would be too thin, eyes would be impossible to see and weapons would generally be ludicrously small and thin. The reality looks wrong and causes problems with casting. So, we exaggerate. Minis have big heads and hands and the facial features are blown up. Depending on the sculptor this is done to a greater or lesser extent. Some figures have a very chunky look, for example many of the historical producers work like this. The sculptor Tom Meier is known for the other end of the extreme with figures that seem at a glance to be total reality whereas they are still exaggerated, just to a much lesser extent. I understand Tom's general ethos is to get as close to reality as is practical.

Now this is all very well but with the advent of cheaper and cheaper high quality digital cameras we are often showing photographs of the figures many times larger than the figure is in reality. It was a recent figure of Tom's that brought this very much to my attention.

You can see Tom's blog here

and the figure is on the blog entry for 15th January 2011.

This a true 25mm figure sculpted to fit with an older range and when we saw the pictures it's head was too large. Obviously so. Except it really wasn't. Tom explained that the figure in reality looked fine. The problem lay in the very over-sized picture of the sculpt. But this happens so much these days; figures being shown so much larger than they actually are and it amplifies the scale conventions and makes them look wrong.

This phenomena has had a curious effect on sculptors. I know I'm moving ever more in this worrisome direction and can see a lot of others doing so either consciously or subconsciously. We're sculpting to look good in the photo more than we are sculpting to look good in reality. This is not a good road to go down.

I've seen it many times. Beautiful high res shots of an immaculately sculpted figure that looks amazing and when you get it... well... yes it's still amazing but it's so skinny and tiny and without physical presence. These are often the 'fear figures' I have spoken of before. We get them and the level of detail and reality is sometimes too much.

I think we need to try and reel ourselves in on the size of the photos we show so that minis can give a better representation of themselves as to their size. Not suggesting actual size as computer monitors lack the pixels per inch count to look good at that size. But you can see them pretty well at twice their height, we don't really need to go to four times or more. It's fun to see those closeups at times but it should probably not be the first way you see a figure.

So be reasonable with your pic sizes.

Feel free to argue with me at your convenience...


  1. Nope, I think you're right. I'm guilty of it myself. I'm satisfied with a sculpt, take pics, then have to go back and work on it again because of those pics.

    At the same time, I try not to blow the pics up too large because I can't manage that 'detail and reality' myself!

  2. I agree Steve - it's difficult to control how photos are viewed electronically, but if they're printed they should never show the mini larger than it is in life. Minis tend to "fall apart" if printed larger-than-life.

  3. Not sure about this theory, Steve. Surely by the very fact we are sculptors means what is physically in front of us is going to take precedence over a 2D photograph?

    Is it perhaps not more down to an evolution in the style of many miniatures? Just as big hands and heads do not always give a figure physical presence, the pose and attitude of a more 'proportional' figure will define its impact in reality. The sculptor has to compensate in other ways to give the physical presence and perhaps don't this isn't alway achieved.

    I agree that photographs are often ridiculously large. Much as I'm impressed by the technical skill of Tom Meier's work, I find the huge images mean it's very hard to read a figure as it would be in reality. And I often get bored waiting for the images to load!

    @Warren: Is make changes based on photographs a negative thing? Isn't it the equivalent of looking at a portrait sketch in a mirror? I find it helpful to have a fresh view on a figure.

  4. Well, there is certainly a tendency towards a different style of sculpture these days with more true proportions but your point about the size of Tom's pictures and the difficulty in reading it as a final product is tied up in my point.

    There is no problem with making changes based upon a photograph as it's a good time to spot problems but there's sometimes a tendency towards not fixing mistakes but altering something that looks correct in reality to look correct in a giant photograph where it maybe in detriment to the figure at actual size. This action even makes a certain amount of sense when we consider that, in the modern miniatures marketplace, a large quantity of sales will not be based on the purchasers viewing of the miniature itself but based on viewing of said photograph.

    I have come across, many times, miniatures that looked flawed in photos that have been fine in reality (Tom's figure mentioned int he blog entry would probably be a classic example) and figures that look wonderful in photos but upon inspection of the model itself will turn out to be less impressive. A classic example of that is when a figure has looked great in it's photo but then turns out to be as flat as a pancake. I felt some of Rackham's output suffered from this. Rackham are probably a great example of a company that emphasised figures to look right in photos over how they looked in reality in their sculpting and also in their painting. As I understand it their choice of using NMM, when it was nigh-on unheard of, was largely due to it photographing generally more easily and with a higher impact than metallics. Presumably they were well aware that few of their customers would ever see the studio paintjobs with their naked eye (though I'd never suggest they were anything other than beautifully rendered).

    Boiling down and going with your very first point a sculptor should certainly put what is in front of them in precedence over a 2d photograph but when you're faced with selling that figure via said photograph it's tempting to go in the other direction as some do...

    ... and we say 'it looks better in real life'.