Increasingly, we as wargamers and miniatures painters are faced with a choice: miniatures sculpted by hand, and those that are sculpted using software (what I’ll refer to from here on as CAD – short for computer-aided design).
There are pros and cons to both methods. Games Workshop, for instance, designs their minis now via a CAD process (other companies, like Wyrd Games, and many others, do as well), and produces miniatures with the kind of detail that, frankly, a human hand sculpting using dental tools on Green Stuff and Gray Stuff simply won’t achieve. There’s also the added benefit that digital models can be saved and then edited, so if you’re trying to create variants of particular sculpts, you don’t have to start over literally from scratch.
The old-fashioned way – the above-mentioned putty and dental tools – also has its benefits. The startup cost is much lower – basically the cost of your supplies. Also there’s practically an endless variety of textures and bits that you can utilize to help realize the sculpt that you’re looking for.
For both processes, of course, there’s a vast learning curve; you can’t just fire up the software, or mold a lump of green stuff onto an armiture, and start sculpting masterpieces. Anybody who has tried to just do a little bit of detailing with Green Stuff the first time knows that it’s pretty daunting.
The big question is, of course, what kind of miniatures do you get from either process? I think by nature, just by the abilities of the software, CAD-made minis just tend to be more detailed and more technically accurate. You can capture fairly tremendous likenesses on the software, and the kind of minute details you can achieve are mind-blowing. Minis like The Glottkin and Mortarion, for instance, would have been difficult, if not night-impossible, if sculpted by hand. And they’re among my favorite models because of the high level of gut-wrenching tiny bits they were able to fit in.
Hand-sculpted models end up having distinctive character. I think that comes down to the imperfection of the process – human hands with even the finest tools can only sculpt things to a particular tolerance. So instead of going for the tiny details, the sculptors go for broad recognizabiity. Simple shapes, easily translated gestures, and so forth. That’s not to say that there aren’t detailed hand-sculpted minis. There are, and I can think of several immediately off hand that I’ve just finished painting. But what I’m getting at is that the limitations of working so small ultimately forces creativity in the way a model necessarily comes across to the wargamer.
I don’t, however, want to be saying that I like any one method of mini over another. I love CAD minis, and I love traditional minis. I’ve got tons of both in my collection, and they look great together on the battlefield. And I’ll be very interested to see how taste and technology alters both methods in the next few years.
About the Author;
Peter Kuebeck is a writer, gamer and award-winning mini-painter living in the Midwest. He wages a constant battle against the ever-growing tide of unpainted minis in his basement, and occasionally GMs role-playing game sessions with friends. Catch his hobby shenanigans on Twitter at @popculturecube