Friday, 4 February 2011

Musings on the denizens of the Hellpit...

Today I'd like to be horribly unfashionable and talk a little about a recent release from Games Workshop. The model in question is the Skaven Hellpit Abomination. I'm not going to delve into it's usefulness on the battlefield or even talk a whole lot about the miniature itself. Suffice to say it's a big and ugly piece of work and falls squarely into the love it/hate it sector of the market. I rather like it myself but that's not the point of the exercise this night.

Put simply, the Hellpit Abomination is a marvel of plastic tooling technology. I'll not pretend to be utterly fluent in the language of injection plastic tooling but I know enough of the ins and outs of the process to know that this is really something special.

According to the box, the figure was sculpted by Seb Perbet who has done a great job of creating a biological mass of unspeakable horribleness which pretty much achieves what it said on the tin. What truly impresses is the ingenious level of how it breaks down into components and the ease of sticking it together. Everything fits with a near perfect 'snap' and cleanup required is retty minimal given the nature of the kit. The difficulty of a kit of this nature in plastic is the process of casting the model in a solid steel mould instead of the rubber moulds used for either resin or metal processes. This means that the plastic figure must be designed without 'undercuts'. An undercut is actually a fairly difficult thing to describe quickly but essentially it boils down to a component only having detail in one plane. Basically the front and the back can have detail but the sides cannot have any recessed detail or the figure would get stuck in the steel mould due to it not flexing like rubber. Look at a plastic figure and turn it sideways. Note how the detail basically vanishes or generally looks weird. That's due to the process of zero-undercut sculpting. It's something of a science and GW have a few sculptors who are superb at this process to the point where it is not overly noticeable.

Seb has done a spectacular job of designing a figure that has little in the way of compromise for undercuts due to the complexity of the way that the figure has been cut into components. I can barely imagine the head scratching that must of gone on trying to work out the optimum way for this figure to break down and exactly where the detail compromises could be made and where they couldn't. This is as near to black magic as sculpting gets and I don't envy Seb and the toolmakers task at all.

But I wanted to publically write of the astoundment I experienced in assembling this behemoth. In it's concept it's always going to be a figure that divides opinion but technologically? This, my friends, is art.


  1. Very cool. Thanks for the lesson. It definitely gives me a better appreciation for GW's contributions to the hobby.

    One of these days, can you explain how a master green is "cut" into multiple components? I just received the new goblin set from Imbrian, and I'm blown away by how well the pieces fit together for the troll. How do the modelers or casters create a ball-and-socket joint from the original green?

  2. Greens are generally cut up by the sculptor rather than the mouldmaker. It's a pain in the ass process but it's technically simple. Works in one of two ways...

    1. Sculpt the parts separately. Sometimes works but often this creates a disjointed looking figure.

    2. Literally cut the figure into pieces with knives or saws. Then you clean up the joints and remodel them to fit correctly. In the case of a ball socket you would add a ball with putty to one half and drill into the other.

    Glad the Imbrian figures fit nicely as I've got a set coming...

  3. I was stunned when I saw the Vampire Counts Corpse Cart in sprue form. The way the cadavers' arms inerlink like a toothed clamshell to produce 3D detail in all directions is a marvel. GW are definitely pushing the boundaries of what can be done with plastic.

  4. GW are truly way ahead of the competition when it comes to plastic moulding for wargaming miniature kits. GW seems to improve upon and push the boundary's of the plastic technology each time they produce a new kit. From a technically designed point of view the abomination is a superb model, and it looks great too!

  5. Great stuff. Thanks for the lesson, definitely helps me appreciate the mini a little more.
    Cutting up minis that you have spent hour sculpting just sounds like no fun though.

  6. the image being created by partly by seb and part by myself started at first by flat two dimensional images and then by a three dimensional sketch in clay - its then that the genius of the sculptor comes out when you see the third dimension come alive and the science of construction form - brian nelson has a very similar approach others build two dimensional roughs to size on card or paper .....

  7. Art deserves appreciation Steve, I think that the ultimate appreciation would be to give it a lick of paint?

    The really scary thing about the Hellpit is that we barely have enough time to marvel at it before the next incredible thing hits us, we've now got a Spider which just blew me away and god knows what that Tomb King thing was on the GW site monday morning (there only showing extreme close ups... the f**kin' tease!)